Over the past three years our home has regularly hosted one, two or sometimes three volunteers between March and November. Throughout our three years they have helped us to complete some of the more ambitious tasks like digging our raised beds, shovelling tonnes of manure and top soil, building projects and turning composts.
Volunteers are amazing, they share recipes and travelling anecdotes and bring life back to the year to year jobs, sharing their fresh enthusiasm for activities such as seed saving, chutney and jam making, mulching beds or harvesting bracken. It really helps to have a extra help with the tasks where a relay of hands are needed- especially when keeping the jam from sticking to the pot!
I also really like how I can share the responsibilties of everyday activities. These become far more enjoyable when they do not need to be done everyday. Things like cooking, bread making, weeding, watering the polytunnel and lighting the fire.
It hasn’t always felt natural living with strangers. My partner, Tom, is a natural with groups of people. I, on the other hand, am an extroverted introvert. I have at times felt guarded or precious about sharing my quiet time in the morning or evening. Living with others has been a very helpful way to to overcome the concept that to be myself or relax completely, I need to be away from other people.
The main things I’ve learnt are:
- Welcome anyone who visits as extended family. Offer them the space to be comfortable and feel okay about letting them know how things work. I.e the routines and chores.
- Do things together to make chores more fun. Do the washing up with music, share a walk on the weekend, go to the pub or community event together, foraging together.
- Give volunteers their own responsibilites. We give them list of what they can tackle on their own, we ask volunteers if they want to look after the ducks while they stay. This means if we are a little slow getting up in the morning they have their own jobs to get on with. No one is waiting around, which is boring!
- Communicate about the ebb and flow of the schedule. When you combine home, friendship, relationship and work life, not all schedules are regular. Having a check in every few days helps to keep everyone in the loop, this can be useful to prepare everyone about periods of absence which around the corner and or when you are planning quiet time without it becoming confusing. I used to feel so guilty about not doing all the jobs together or not always being available as a volunteer coordinator! Communication and planning ahead is a big help!
- Be prepared to teach. This took me ages to get to grips with. Having volunteers means that there will some component of teaching- which I experienced some self limiting beliefs (‘What me, What can I teach!?). However, by preparing simple demonstration and clear explanations, everyone can get something out of the task. I often have a permaculture angle in my delivery.
- Prepare at least one meal per day together.
- Be human- yes, there will be easy days, hard days, sick days, tired days, fun days, quiet days, and outgoing days- accept all the variations and be content sharing yourself in honesty and humility.
Finally, I’d love to hear your experiences working as a volunteer or as a volunteer host.
Photo credits: Alan Charlton of www.communityledsolutions.co.uk