our members survey

Oct 13, 2014

Thank you to everyone who replied to our Members Survey during February and March. We mentioned in its introduction that WWOOF UK intended to use the results to prepare a plan for how it aims to develop over the next few years. We want WWOOFing to reach and benefit more people and more organic farming throughout the UK. So we needed your views on how we should develop and fundraise, as well as your ideas and thoughts on your WWOOF hosting and WWOOFing.

We had a very good response with over a thousand replies (nearly 14% of WWOOFers and just over 50% of WWOOF hosts responded) – most of them within the first few days of our sending it out – so it can’t have been too hard to reply. We were surprised that a relatively high proportion of non-UK-based WWOOFers replied to the survey. It was a great result – how many members surveys can claim over 50% online response – and a great credit to our membership!

Our prize draw for WWOOFers offered free UK membership for next year and a LILI publication of their choice (http://www.lowimpact.org/books_LILI_publications.htm). So congratulations to Nicolas Davis who was picked out of the survey replies, a UK national but currently living in another country.

Thanks to your responses we made a funding application to the European Commission with several other European WWOOF organisations which has just been provisionally accepted. It’s an education project for WWOOFers providing some online guidance on organic farming, low impact lifestyles and general WWOOFing. We’re also using the survey replies to apply for funding for a project to promote WWOOF more widely in the UK, and to recruit more hosts.


We now know more about our WWOOFers
Their average age is 29 (60% are under 27 years old). They come from a staggering 55 different countries, with 38% from the UK and 45% from other EU countries (France 19%, Germany 8%, Spain 8%, US 7%, Italy 5%). Most of our WWOOFers are well educated (75% have qualifications at degree level or higher), not in employment (62% are students or unemployed) and mostly have little or no experience of organic farming or growing (72%). Most WWOOFers (82%) have only been registered for one year, and only a quarter have WWOOFed with three or more hosts. 

Their main reasons for wanting to WWOOF were (in order) to travel and experience the country, learn about sustainable lifestyles and organic farming and growing, learn a language, and make a future living from organic farming and growing.
As they said:
A mixture of learning a language, new lifestyles and experiences.
Community life and work in a group.
Getting to know different cultures.
Work hard and be in a quiet place far away from the city.
Break out of my life at home.
Support a revolution.
See other set ups to emulate when I get home.

WWOOFing
Nearly all hosts (92%) have hosted WWOOFers in the last year. Most of these WWOOFers were from non-English-speaking countries. Hosts generally preferred to have non-UK-based WWOOFers. Only about 10% of the WWOOFers were from the local area. However a third of WWOOFers wanted to volunteer locally to where they lived. The preferred duration for WWOOFing was 2-4 weeks. Only 4% wanted to do weekend WWOOFing and only 8% did 2 or more months at one farm. Over half the hosts (61%) said that some WWOOFers had visited them more than once. About a quarter of hosts (23%) had at some time hosted WWOOFers with a physical, learning or mental disability. Although some said it was an enriching experience, several explained how difficult it was to accept WWOOFers with reduced mobility and without the training to support them. 

Promoting WWOOF-UK
WWOOFers said they could help us promote WWOOF by adding a link to a social media site (55%) and pass on leaflets or information to other people or groups (36%). They also suggested that they could present WWOOF at college or university fairs and open days, and write an article for a local paper or travel magazine.

We had lots of ideas about how hosts could help us promote WWOOF-UK. These included (in order) passing on leaflets or information to other local organic farmers and growers (48%), offering a weekend taster session to a few interested local people, promoting at a local event or give a talk to a local group, getting stories in local media and newsletters, and adding videos of host farms to the website.

WWOOFers seemed more willing than hosts to consider attending a local training session on promoting WWOOF (WWOOFers 29%, Hosts 19%). As one WWOOFer said ‘WWOOF is a wonderful system which offers an amazing experience of the organic lifestyle with hosts who really care about the volunteer’s experience and the educational/ work exchange that takes place. Any promotion of WWOOF needs to emphasise this aspect rather than the cheap travel and tourism idea.’

Educating WWOOFers
Both the WWOOFers and hosts made helpful suggestions about how we could offer free online guidance or training to WWOOFers. Their preferred topics were (with the rank order of the WWOOFers and hosts):

  • Organic farming and growing (WWOOFers – 78%, hosts 71%)
  • Sustainable lifestyles (WWOOFers – 75%, hosts 63%)
  • Eco-building and construction (WWOOFers – 65%, hosts 49%)
  • Living and working with WWOOF Hosts (WWOOFers – 65%, hosts 77%)
  • Healthy and safe working (WWOOFers – 46%, hosts 66%)
  • English language (WWOOFers – 31%, hosts 44%)

 

The hosts ranked living and working with WWOOF hosts, and healthy and safe working higher than the WWOOFers. As one host said ‘Above all, the rules and etiquette of being a good WWOOFer (and a good host), taking into account that all are very different.’ and another said ‘Basic skills – safe and efficient use of tools etc.’
Other suggestions from WWOOFers included:
Rural travel links and information.
A monthly organic/ eco suggestion board.
How to make a living from organic farming, starting a sustainable smallholding.
Future farming careers, training and resources to make the transition from WWOOFing to working in organics.
Marketing and selling organic farm produce.
Some basic instructions and information would be good, but living and working with hosts is the best training.

Internships
Understandably relatively more WWOOFers than hosts wanted to develop a more formal work experience or internship schemes but both thought it should mainly be for university/college students studying farming, horticulture, environmental management etc. Most WWOOFers would not like the scheme to offer any sort of formal award.

Networking
Both WWOOFers and hosts preferred to network by email or social media (71% WWOOFers, 52% hosts) followed by group visits (34% WWOOFers, 23% hosts). As some WWOOFers said ‘Making more of social media seems the easiest and quickest way to get the word out about WWOOF’ and ‘A properly promoted and managed forum used by volunteers and hosts would let us share our experiences.’

Partnerships
WWOOFers were keener than hosts to develop partnerships with like-minded organisations. Their preferred sort of organisations (in order, with the host’s order in brackets) was as follows:
Organic farming and growing (1)
Community-supported agriculture (2)
Eco-building and construction (3)
Urban growing (5)
Transition and lifestyle (8)
Training and education (4)
Poverty and Social care (6)
Physical or learning disabilities (7)

Both WWOOFers and hosts agreed with their main and least preferred sorts of partners. Transition Town groups and urban growing were relatively higher for WWOOFers probably as many come from cities.

These results reflect the huge and rapid changes in society of which WWOOF-UK needs to be aware – the growth in international volunteering as well as international travel that is currently cheap and easy, the growing interests in living a lower impact lifestyle, and the consumer demand for local and organic produce. The profile of our membership has undoubtedly changed over the last forty-three years of WWOOF-UK’s existence.

Membership surveys like this are a very valuable way in which we can keep pace with the changing interests and needs of our changing membership.  So thanks again to all our members who participated and gave us their views – keep them rolling in. 
Adam Cade, WWOOF-UK Fundraiser 

Adam was recruited and appointed as WWOOF UK’s fundraiser just about a year ago now. He has decades of experience as a fundraiser with particular interest in sustainability – and not only that he is also a WWOOF UK host! He has brought great wisdom and insight to help us structure our way forward in what are exciting and challenging times and we look forward to bringing you news of further developments. Please use the comment system on this page to let us know your thoughts about the survey, our plans and how you would like to see WWOOF UK develop.

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