A guide to getting help
Many smallholders take on volunteers and find them extremely useful. The experience can also be hugely beneficial for the volunteers themselves. Kim Stoddart investigates
Have you ever thought about all the projects you could undertake if only you had the time, or even better, a little help? I know I have. I’ve got a whopping great list of things I’d like to get done (and try out) but in reality never seem to be able to get round to, which is why I’ve increasingly been thinking about getting in some volunteers to help.
It was speaking to fellow smallholders and organic veg producers Alicia Miller and Nathan Richards recently that really sold me on the idea. Like me, they moved from cosmopolitan lives in a city and have found working with volunteers to be a hugely energising experience. As well as being extremely helpful to their operation, it also reminds them why they are doing what they do in the first place and their children love hanging out with all the visitors.
So I decided to investigate the different options out there ...
How to find volunteers
Finding people willing to help is actually a lot easier than you might otherwise think.
The day-to-day lifestyle and activities that we take for granted are of increasing interest to people from around the world. Growing your own food and rearing animals and everything else that goes with it – these are skills that others would really like to learn.
There are actually many different ways to go about it and it all depends on how much help you need and whether you have (or can organise) space to house volunteers throughout the year. If you have at least one spare room or static caravan, along with food and a warm welcome in exchange for their assistance, then there are many options on offer.
The three main organisations that can help you find volunteers in this way are WWoof, Workaway and HelpX. They each work in a very similar way: connecting prospective hosts with individuals, friends and families from around the world who are looking for working holidays in the UK. Each organisation recommends that prospective hosts expect assistance for about five hours a day in this system of exchange.
Find what works for you
You don’t even necessarily need to have spare accommodation available. At Lammas, a pioneering eco-village in Pembrokeshire, they have a constant stream of helpers keen to learn more about the project. With limited accommodation on site, a lot of these bring a tent or campervan and pitch up nearby. The many families at the project advertise for assistance via their website and anyone interested registers online to receive a monthly newsletter which outlines all of the volunteering opportunities coming up.
If, however, you would just prefer to have some help on projects on specific days, then you’ll need to be a bit more proactive, but it’s also relatively easy to organise. It all depends what help you are looking for and what you are prepared to offer. We don’t have any spare accommodation and, as I spend a lot of time writing, having people stay for weeks on end wouldn’t work. So the best option for me will be a weekly volunteer day with a gardening focus. I’ve seen it done very successfully at community allotments before, like the excellent Moulsecoomb Forest garden in Brighton. There, locals who would like to learn to grow their own provide assistance in exchange for a free lunch and maybe some vegetables to take home if there are any going spare.
This will be a very nice way to dip my
toe into a rather large world of prospective volunteering opportunities and see where it takes me. I’ll spread the word locally and via my website. Social media is also ideal for this purpose.
Volunteers can be a huge help on any smallholding