celebrating younger WWOOFers

Nov 25, 2018

One of the biggest changes for WWOOF UK this year has been lowering the sign-up age for WWOOFers to 16. It was a decision that caused a few sleepless nights for those involved, but at the end of our first season we think it has been a success.

We now have just over 100 volunteers aged 16 or 17 as members. A third of these are from France, whilst 10% come from Germany. A significant number are homegrown – and equally matched by those coming from Spain. The remainder are from around the rest of the world including one from the Faroe Islands and one from South Korea.


Toby

To help our younger WWOOFers on their way we worked with Beccy Murrell, Regional Host Contact for the North West and her employer, THINK Consulting Solutions, to offer ten bursaries to UK based applicants. The funding provided a free single WWOOFer online membership and a travel subsidy of £50 to help each young volunteer get to and from their first host.

Here we share the story of two of these first-time volunteers, Elise Tomlinson and Toby Rudling, as they set off on their WWOOFing adventures. The hosts they visited give us their take on the experience and we conclude with some advice for young WWOOFers of the future.

Elise’s story

Elise, a 17-year-old school leaver from Northampton describes herself as pretty quiet and laid back. She was attracted to WWOOFing because she thought it would help build her confidence, gain a bit of independence and experience some responsibility. She wanted to learn some new skills too.

We liked her honesty when she said she thought WWOOFing looked like a good way to meet new people, experience new things and see new places for next to no money! She admitted too that she had an eye to improving her CV and wanted to have an interesting story to tell her friends.

Elise also wanted to spend less time on her phone and get outdoors more! How could we refuse her a bursary?


Elise

With her account up and running Elise quickly created a shortlist of three potential hosts to visit and struck gold with her very first approach to Bert Manton of Orchard House. A 73-year-old retired school teacher of countryside studies might not be every 17-year-olds idea of fun but when I asked her what attracted her to this host she said, ‘he already had some good reviews from other WWOOFers – and wasn’t too far from my own home if things didn’t go according to plan’.

Elise stayed with Bert for two weeks in June. She encountered sheep, bees and poultry and helped out in Bert’s permaculture vegetable area and herb garden.

When I asked Elise what the best thing about her time at Orchard House was she said, ‘I feel that this short stay has given me more skills and motivation than I got from my whole time at school. It has made me so excited to travel and learn more and I am so lucky that my first ever WWOOFING experience was so good’.

One of the reasons Elise’s stay went so well was that Bert involved her in his social calendar too! She went circle dancing on the summer solstice, visited a National Trust property and dressed up as a gypsy to accompany Bert and his gypsy caravan to a charity event for terminally ill children.

Summing up the experience Elise said, ‘Honestly, I can’t think of a single thing that could have been improved. My host was beyond lovely and I had so many amazing experiences and learnt so much. I definitely won’t forget my time there’.

So – how was it for Bert? His report was equally glowing. He described Elise as fitting in very well, being very keen to learn and good at taking the initiative and occupying herself. And this teenager was punctual, polite and respectful too!

Toby’s story

Toby, also 17, already had some volunteering experience under his belt having assisted Rangers on Dartmoor. Currently studying for his A-levels he clearly has a great passion for all aspects of conservation and outdoor work. Toby was full of excitement to get WWOOFing and help out a host.

With his main aim being to study environmental science at University and live in an environmentally sustainable home it was Living with Respect, a 48-acre Soil Association organic farm and ecology centre, on the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall that caught his attention.

There are three families acting as hosts on this farm and they ensured Toby was thoroughly immersed in their daily work. If not busy clearing encroaching scrub and removing invasive species he could be found caring for goats or working in the vegetable garden.

Toby said the best thing about his time on the farm was ‘learning about sustainable farming and gaining experience in all things homestead related, as well as being part of a wider community, with opportunities to talk to other young people about different ways of living’.

One of his hosts, Sandra Noble, described the whole experience of engaging with Toby as ‘surprisingly fine, largely because of Toby’s maturity and ability to apply himself‘.

What have we learnt?

These stories demonstrate that younger WWOOFers can be just as much an asset as older ones. We’d like to say a special thank you to everyone involved for being our pathfinders.

Both of these WWOOFers have a membership that continues until next Spring and each says they plan to WWOOF again. The hosts featured remain open to 16- and 17-year-old volunteers too.

We have heard one or two accounts from hosts who have had less successful exchanges involving younger WWOOFers but, on closer analysis the issues have not been age-related.

One particular host reported that a 16-year-old WWOOFer had fallen foul of the age policy of a UK hotel en-route to her smallholding. Subsequent research has established that many hotels, B&Bs or campsites do not accept under-18s staying by themselves. We are adding information to our sign-up page to raise awareness of this. Essentially an under-18’s best chance of finding somewhere to stay between hosts is Premier Inn or a YHA hostel (except Northern Ireland).

If you have any other young WWOOFer tales to share that will help us improve or update our advice and guidance, do get in touch using info@wwoof.org.uk

Meanwhile, the advice we give all WWOOFers rings equally true for this age group. In particular we suggest younger WWOOFers:

1. Try WWOOFing locally at first.

2. Consider WWOOFing just for the weekend or a week.

3. Think about what you want from the experience and approach hosts with descriptions that sound like they will be a good match for you.

4. Be prepared to experience a different way of life.

5. Be warned, hosts are likely to be living a much more outdoors lifestyle than you’re used to, and there will probably be mud/compost/manure involved in your activities. Your new trainers will not stay white for very long.

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