In March 1988, the RAYLEIGH ASSOCIATION OF VOLUNTARY SERVICES (RAVS) was formed by local business people and others.

Eric J. Davison A.I.B, who was Manager of Lloyds Bank, Rayleigh, was the original Chairman of RAVS.

He had good local knowledge but more importantly he negotiated with, and secured funds from Essex County Council in order to get RAVS up and running.

Funds were crucial and difficult to acquire but Eric's ability to put a good case won a grant which Essex County Council still provide to the present day.

The aim was to bring all the voluntary organisations within the Rochford District Council area together, with RAVS acting as an umbrella organisation.

The intention was not to organise the groups in any way, but to offer a range of services and advice where needed to both organisations and the general public.

A Volunteer Bureau was opened in the foyer of Rayleigh Library, where it still exists today. Some of the volunteers who joined shortly after RAVS's formation are still with us.

Esme Barker was one of those who later became Secretary and Co-ordinator, a job she did supremely well until poor health forced her to retire in 2006.

Pat Byford was another early volunteer who was Treasurer for a number of years and now co-ordinates the annual Families-in-Need Appeal. Two other volunteers who have been with RAVS since those early days are Irene Reynell and Margaret Chambers. Our current Chairman, Ron Rowson, took over the reigns in the early 1990s.

The Volunteer Bureau had an open door' policy, with the volunteers responding to peoples' needs as they arose - a truly charitable service.

Originally, the day to day work was overseen by an officer seconded from Essex County Social Services whose role included attending various meetings of member organisations and an essential contact with the statutory authorities.

This arrangement is now undertaken by RAVS staff working in partnership with other bodies.

A satellite office was opened in Rochford but this eventually closed due to the cost of running it and a limited use.

Some of the early services can no longer be carried out, such as the purchase and loan of small electric cookers and heaters, and purchase and supply of basic furniture for homeless people in temporary accommodation.

This was in liaison with the District Council.

RAVS also became a collection point for many articles, one of which being wool for a local lady who knitted hundreds of teddies for children of worldwide disasters called Teddies for Tragedies'.

So, to develop services to meet changing needs, in 2001 RAVS expanded its staff base and to reflect its district-wide involvement was renamed as RAYLEIGH, ROCHFORD AND DISTRICT ASSOCIATION FOR VOLUNTARY SERVICE (RRAVS).

New services and projects that have been introduced since that time have included the introduction of a Community Directory of locally based community groups and organisations; the formation of the Community Transport scheme, which has recently become independent of RRAVS as Wyvern Community Transport; a Laptop scheme for the introduction to computers for our senior citizens (originally funded by a Lottery grant); the introduction of an annual voluntary and community awareness open day (now in its 5th year); a Funding Officer providing advice on available grants and application completion; and more recently operating the Young Carers scheme.

RRAVS's core volunteering role has also expanded under a new Manager with a rename to a Volunteer Centre offering both voluntary work opportunities available and individual volunteering registration.

The work opportunities are advertised through a computer based nationwide register. A quarterly newsletter is produced for all our member organisations with community forums organised 2/3 times a year.

There are also two special events at Christmas time which have been operating since the outset. The annual Families-in-Need Appeal working with the Essex County Social Care teams to provide toys, vouchers and food (kindly donated from Harvest Festivals at schools and churches) - in 2007 RRAVS helped 56 families including 110 children and 42 older people, some living alone.

The other event is the Carol Service at Holy Trinity, Rayleigh. This is an opportunity to bring all the charitable organisations together and invite residents of sheltered housing schemes and others to participate. This event has expanded over the years with a tea party' being provided after the carol service.

Finally, all districts in Essex have an organisation similar to RRAVS and each one develops its own services. RRAVS works within organisational guidelines but is able to provide specific schemes that suit and are of benefit to the local community.

RRAVS Volunteer Centre is open Monday to Friday from 9.30 am - 1.00 pm and is based at Rayleigh Library Foyer, 132 High Street, Rayleigh, SS6 7BX. Telephone/fax: 01268-775255 See website link below.