Helen Wynd and Clare Dwyer are upset that the Red Cross has disbanded Voluntary Aid Services.
Helen Wynd and Clare Dwyer are upset that the Red Cross has disbanded Voluntary Aid Services.

Tears as Red Cross disbands VAS

When Helen Wynd and her fellow volunteers were informed the Red Cross was disbanding Voluntary Aid Services across Australia on December 1, a shocked silence descended on the room.

Voluntary Aid Services (VAS), originally known as Voluntary Aid Detachments, were established in 1914 and Helen has been a volunteer for the past 69 years.

“Like the rest of the room I was stunned. There was dead silence. Then there was anger and tears. When finally spoke, then the whole room erupted,” Helen said. “I wouldn’t have stayed for this long if I didn’t think it was worthwhile – we’ve asked questions of Red Cross, asked them why they are doing this, but we haven’t had any answers.”

Red Cross NSW executive director Lewis Kaplan said he was “very surprised” to hear the ladies had not had their questions answered and wanted to get in touch with them to discuss the decision.

The VAS has had many incarnations since it was first formed at the beginning of WWI however today it’s main focus is providing comfort and support to donors of the Lismore Blood Bank as well as fundraising for the Red Cross.

Mr Kaplan said in 2006/07 the national board asked the Red Cross to review its services to ensure they were focussing on the most disadvantaged people in the community. He said the VAS were not delivering a service that met the “articulated strategy of the board”.

“If we were a company making motorcars and there was a bit out the side making trailers and we decided our business was really making motorcars, would we continue to make trailers? No,” he said.

He said the Red Cross had written on several occasions to each VAS in NSW to ensure the volunteers could transition to other services or incorporate themselves as an organisation.

The Lismore VAS group has decided that, despite their group being shut down, they will continue their volunteer work – but Clare said the decision still stings.

“It feels like the decision’s been made by someone on the 14th floor of an office building in Melbourne who are not even aware of what we do,” Clare said. “We’ve been running since 1914 and it doesn’t cost the Red Cross anything so why not just leave us alone? We buy our own uniforms, we don’t ask for petty cash, and last year we raised $7,500. We don’t ask for anything. It all just seems very strange.”

Mr Kaplan said whether the group made a profit or deficit had nothing to do with the decision and said he was very pleased the volunteers had decided to continue their work.

“The Australian Red Cross Blood Service is a core part of what we do… the fact they are staying on as volunteers is a terrific outcome,” he said.

The Lismore VAS held a special function at the House With No Steps last Saturday as a final farewell.

Above all the women wanted the donors of the Blood Bank to know they aren’t going anywhere.

“Our main message is that we’ll still be there for the donors – I made a vow in 1953 to be there for them and that’s what I’ll keep doing,” Helen said. “It’s not that the Blood Bank can’t run without us but it would cost them a lot more. After the announcement we got a call from the Blood Transfusion Service in Sydney pleading with us to stay on, and we thought that was nice. At least someone appreciates what we do.”

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