DJembe Askins had planned to be a long way from home this summer, traveling through Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Then came the pandemic. But instead of abandoning his sabbatical-style journey entirely, the 24-year-old decided to transplant him to the UK.
Askins, who left his job at a bank in London, has spent the past nine months volunteering on farms, mainly in Wales, through Global opportunities in organic farms (Wwoof), a network in which people volunteer four to six hours a day in exchange for food and accommodation. Although the climate was “a little more humid and not as sunny” as his original destinations, he found the experience of living in a different part of the UK and learning to be “self-sufficient” as an eye opener. “It makes me wonder what else is there in the UK that I’ve never been to.”
With the outlook for overseas travel still uncertain and the easing of the postponed lockdown, UK-based ‘volunteer drives’ are on the rise. Experts predict a summer of volunteering, especially among students and youth seeking experience and alternative gap years.
Wwoof reports a surge in interest from its UK-based membership this year, which has risen by roughly 50%, as people seek alternatives to overseas holidays and reassess their lives after the pandemic. Although the Brexit “double whammy” and coronavirus travel restrictions have led to a drop in international membership, the number of UK-based members is expected to rise further as the UK holiday approaches. summer and more people are vaccinated.
Meanwhile, the Marine Conservation Society has seen an increase in the number of volunteers for its beach cleaning program and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) has noticed an increase in young people applying for volunteer positions.
“Compared to most people, I’ve had an absolutely excellent year,” said Askins, who spent the first lockdown in a London flat. Since he started volunteering he has “kept busy” but without much stress and has enjoyed having so much outdoor space at his disposal.
He has learned to build a chicken coop, care for animals, and grow vegetables. It has also given you the opportunity to learn more about the UK.
In addition to gap year students, Scarlett Penn, CEO of Wwoof UK, said it tends to attract people who are at “some kind of crossroads in their life,” such as a career breakdown, divorce, retirement, or parents whose children have just left home.
But, he cautioned, it is not a good choice for the sedentary traveler. “It is very good for people who have a lot of energy. People who just couldn’t dream of laying by a pool and reading a book. “
Penn believes that people taking stock of their lives over the pandemic and empty grocery shelves during the shutdown have contributed to the surge in volunteers. She welcomes people to her small estate in Ludlow, Shropshire, and said the influence of climate activist Greta Thunberg is also a factor for young people.
Pembrokeshire flames, which has 60 animals and goes on fire walks for the public, said it has been inundated with inquiries about its residential volunteer program, largely from students and graduates of the UK-based school. Matt Yorke, farm manager, said: “We have been very interested. At one point, I was getting an application every day … we completed the year very quickly in April. “
But international visitors have faced problems getting to the farm, and a volunteer was turned away at the border. “There are two main factors working together: the side of Brexit that makes it difficult for people outside the UK to volunteer and people in the UK who just want to go out and do something different and are limited to where they can go this year, “he said.
Lizzie Jolley, 21, who has been in a WWT volunteer placement at Slimbridge Wetland Center in Gloucestershire for nine months as part of her college course, said many of her friends plan to volunteer this summer rather than go straight to work. “It’s such an accessible route and it’s more of a learning-on-the-job setting to get that experience that will help you when you apply for jobs.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism