Trudi Warner, a director of WWOOF UK, kindly agreed to compile this report for us – thank you Trudi.
Our AGM was held from Saturday 21st to Sunday 22nd September at Monkton Wyld Court, a pioneering sustainability centre in a beautiful valley close to the Dorset coast.
Monkton Wyld has been a popular WWOOF host for many years, with a group of about six volunteers all year round, involved with all aspects of the running of the centre. It was therefore a fitting venue for the event, involving about 50 people from across the WWOOFing community. Sadly WWOOF’s founder, Sue Coppard, could not attend this year, but the larger staff team introduced their areas of work and were able to give an overview of the various developments that have taken place over the past year.
As a change from the usual format, the Open Forum followed the brief AGM on Saturday afternoon. There was some discussion about how to get armchair WWOOFers out of their armchairs, and ways to offer retired WWOOFers continuing involvement with the WWOOFing community, by possibly offering discounted memberships. The challenge/ threat of HelpX and Workaway was discussed, with the prevailing view that they are more impersonal than WWOOF and do not offer any ongoing support to hosts, which was valued. A positive feeling about Last Minute WWOOFing was expressed, if for example, expected WWOOFers don’t show up. It was felt that the increased WWOOF profile on social media was beneficial, thanks to Mike Hammer. On a less positive note, one delegate felt strongly that WWOOF is not catering sufficiently well for minority groups, being predominantly represented by white, middle class, well-educated people. He was concerned about possible discrimination, particularly if competition for WWOOFing placements increases with more demand.
Amanda Pearson, Volunteer Liaison, spoke about the new volunteer representatives who have attended events over the summer on behalf of WWOOF UK, and Adam Cade, Fundraiser, sought suggestions for content for the online educational resource for which Erasmus Funding has been secured. However, it was agreed that WWOOF UK should be self-sufficient and that any funds raised should not be used to support the organisation’s core business.
We were particularly fortunate to have Simon Fairlie, who lives at Monkton Wyld, as our keynote speaker. Simon is an author, the founder and editor of The Land magazine, and campaigner, who also runs Chapter 7, which gives planning advice. He has exhaustive knowledge and strong opinions, and gave a thoughtful and passionate talk about getting, and keeping, people on the land. He pointed out that land itself is a scarce resource which needs to be used purposefully, and questioned the value of people choosing a rural lifestyle which may conflict with, rather than support, their occupation. He feels that people aspiring to a rural lifestyle should question their motivation, and examine their consciences, as the price of land increases to a level which may make it prohibitive for people wanting to start genuine land-based enterprises. He advised people wanting to start rural businesses to go WWOOFing, but to be selective when choosing hosts and to know what they want to get from the experience. With regard to planning issues, persistence is required, but profit-making enterprises usually get permission in the end.
Simon himself manages five acres of land and keeps two Jersey cows which supply the community – about twenty people, with milk, cream, yogurt, cheese, and some butter. He and Gill Barron make a variety of cheeses which he generously supplied as a cheeseboard to follow our evening meal, along with home-grown grapes. The quality of these was testimony to the quality of lovingly-prepared, local food.
After supper, people patronised the two onsite pub huts, The Reluctant Volunteer and the Thirst After Righteousness, both with considerable ambience and an atmosphere enhanced by solar-powered lights and music. Many others went to the spoons workshop run by Jo May who encouraged everyone to participate first by beating out rhythms and then by singing. This seemed to afford just the right level of activity to conclude the day, and helped us to feel like a group of people who were collaborative and in tune with one another. As usual, the bonfire burned into the night, whilst stalwarts tended it and shared tales.
On Sunday morning there were separate meetings for directors and staff, whilst other people assisted with cutting swathes of lavender and picking apples in the orchard, or went to Sidmouth with community members, for the climate change march, where a large cardboard banner, which many of us had signed, was carried into the sea by Simon Fairlie.
The closing circle before lunch was an opportunity for people to reflect on the weekend and think about what they would take away – apart from pieces of the very popular cheese. As well as mentioning the excellent food, cross-pollination of ideas, and the opportunity to see sustainable practices rigorously applied, many people said they felt nourished by the event and had welcomed the opportunity to meet the staff and directors and understand better how WWOOF works.
We give our sincere thanks to community members at Monkton Wyld for planning the event so carefully and for offering such lovely spaces, both inside and out, for us to share, and also to Howard Davies, from Redfield community who was our photographer for the weekend.
We had some very encouraging feedback from people who joined us for the AGM as you can see below. If you were there and would like to send more please use the comments box on this page.
Susan Davies, ex-RHC and long-time WWOOFer sent us this reflection: After a wonderful summer, the climax was the WWOOF AGM at Monkton Wyld; always an event to look forward too… I was struck at the AGM by the change that has occurred since I first joined ten years or so ago… At this AGM I felt we were moving forward with what is now a more professional-looking organisation. Hopefully, we will be able to grow and improve smoothly now the systems have stabilised… I am more of an armchair WWOOFer these days but I still hope to be able to find a role in WWOOF in the future. Many armchair WWOOFers have a world of experience, though we can no longer work so hard manually… I would like to thank all participants for making our meeting a joyous and humorous one.
Fleur Kelly, a host from Somerset, wrote to us. Here’s an extract from what she said: Just a quick note to say how much I enjoyed the AGM at Monkton Wyld this last weekend. Having been a host for the last eight years (I think) and benefited so wonderfully with all the amazing WWOOFers I’ve had, I wanted to say a real thank you to the WWOOFing staff, but never quite got the chance. …Amanda Pearson and Nim Kibbler were brilliant speakers on important subjects; they made facilitating into an art form! What exuberance, wonderful to behold. …Very many thanks to you all and those at Monkton Wyld for the weekend, such events take time planning and real hard work, you should feel well rewarded by its success.
Ron Meldrum joined us for the AGM – a blast from the past! He wrote: I first heard of WWOOF in 1975 when I attended an organic gardening training and overheard people saying ‘have you gone WWOOFing?’ Years later I joined WWOOF and somehow ended up being the Southeast Regional organiser. I become involved with editing the newsletter from 1983 until 1992. Earlier this year I happened to be passing Monkton Wyld and was informed that WWOOF’s AGM would be taking place there. I was very interested in attending to see how WWOOF had changed after twenty-three years … The weekend seemed really well organised, and gave a good impression of professionalism. …I was pleased to see that the feeling of WWOOF was still there despite its change in legal status; to a charity and a company limited by guarantee and with many more people running it.