1. Choose well
Essentially, pick something you’re interested in. There won’t be any joy in toiling away for a cause you don’t feel strongly about. The Conservation Volunteers website has a comprehensive collection of trips where you can concentrate on projects from wetland conservation to dry stone walling.
2. Give back
In the case of many destinations, it’s the sheer volume of visitors that does the damage. Thankfully, a whole host of working holidays can help lessen your impact. The National Trust has a range of working holidays, including a week-long sojourn in the Lake District where participants help fix the Fells upland path and learn just how much work goes into its maintenance.
3. Go green
Organic farming and sustainable living practices aren’t just for the countryside dweller. WWOOFing — World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or Willing Workers on Organic Farms — is one way to give back. There are more than 600 organic farmers and growers across the UK listed on the website and the opportunities are staggeringly varied.
4. Learn new skills
The UK is made up of over 2,000 miles of waterways that are constantly in need of attention. Join the Inland Waterways Association’s Waterway Recovery Group and learn new skills as you help on projects like restoring a lock on the Cotswold Canals or repairing a bridge on the Lancaster Canal.
5. Get off grid
Want to volunteer, but also escape it all? The YHA has over 150 hostels across England and Wales. Placements run from two to eight weeks and accommodation is provided. From housekeeping to serving meals, you’ll be immersed in hostel life — but still have time to relish the remote location.
6. Meet the animals
There are farm stays, conservation projects and rehabilitation schemes on offer to bring you closer to the UK’s wildlife. English Heritage also runs schemes for volunteers to get involved with animals living on numerous estates. Head to Audley End House in Essex, for example, to take care of the resident horses.
7. Give what you can
If you can’t commit to a longer stay, there are still options available. Cornwall-based Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) organises two volunteer-led Beach Clean weekends each year. In 2018, SAS removed more than 63 tonnes of marine plastic pollution and litter from 575 beaches across the UK.
Do your research
Working holidays are surging in popularity, so there are various resources on offer that let you investigate how to do them properly. Like any voluntourism project, you want to do your research, ask the right questions and check the ramifications and impact of your contribution. The key for most people is ensuring their work has a long-term, sustainable goal.
Published in the March 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)