Free (or Cheap) Volunteer Work in the UK

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Free or Cheap Volunteer Work in the UK

 

Great Britain and Northern Ireland have a lot to offer potential volunteers (and we have lots more projects on our shortlist to investigate further and add here) but if volunteering is your reason for visiting the UK and you are on a tourist visa and from outside the EU, best keep it to yourself. Though the rules were changed in 2015 to allow incidental volunteering for less than 30 days for a registered charity, how this is interpreted at immigration is unpredictable. It's much better just to say something about the Queen and Shakespeare if asked your reasons for visiting the UK.

 

Grassroots Volunteering in the UK

The organisations listed below have either got in touch with us to add their details to this or another of our websites, or we otherwise have reason to believe they are actively looking for international volunteers and charge reasonable or no fees to join in, live and work with them:

Kentwell Hall

www.kentwell.co.uk

A 500 year old grand family home open to the public, Kentwell Hall specialise in corporate events, weddings and recreations of the Tudor and other periods of British history. Alongside six month long vocational internships for graduates (and the occasional outstanding gap year student), Kentwell recruits in January and February for volunteers to take part in their summer season events, demonstrating life as a Tudor or helping behind the scenes. Even application is delightfully retro, requiring the sending off of an A5 sized stamped, self-addressed envelope. Kentwell also require Hall, Garden and Event volunteers and take on volunteer scarers over the Halloween period to hide around corners to jump out and frighten people.

Where: Long Melford, Suffolk.
Accommodation & Costs: Volunteers should be self funding but otherwise there is no fee.

Volunteering in Britain

 

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Waterway Recovery Group Canal Camps

www.wrg.org.uk

Become a 21st century canal navvy on these projects concerned with preserving Britain's industrial past. The WRG run over 25 week long Canal Camps each year, mostly in the summer, open to anyone aged between 18 to 70. No previous experience or qualifications are necessary. Canal Camp volunteers may find themselves feeding 18 hungry workers, clearing gloop from a canal and learning to lay bricks. Camps last a week.

Where: Various locations around Britain.
Accommodation & Costs: Food and basic accommodation is provided for between £56 per week.

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The Monkey Sanctuary

www.monkeysanctuary.org

Thirty thousand people visit this animal sanctuary every year and volunteers are required year round to help keep the place running smoothly. Short term placements run from two to six weeks, and long term for up to three months. No qualifications are needed, but you need to be over 18 and have a basic knowledge of the English language and a general concern for animals and nature. In summer volunteers help prepare food for the monkeys, run the shop, help serving in the kiosk, run workshops in the Activity room and help keep the Sanctuary tidy. Longer term volunteers may help at the admission desk or answer visitors’ questions at the enclosures.

In the winter, volunteers help maintain the house and monkey territory, prepare the monkeys’ food and treats, do street collections, design and make displays, work in the Sanctuary gardens and help with the daily cleaning of the monkey territory. Volunteers with special practical skills have been very important in helping to build new enclosures and improve the monkey territory. Volunteers do not work directly with the monkeys.

Where: Cornwall.
Accommodation & Costs: The Monkey Sanctuary hosts up to ten volunteers at a time in shared accommodation in their Sanctuary house. There is a small weekly fee towards food, accommodation and insurance.

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Speyside Trust Badaguish Outdoor Centre

www.badaguish.org

Speyside Trust, based at Badaguish Cairngorm Outdoor Centre, is a small independent charity helping children and adults with learning difficulties and other special needs to enjoy an outdoor holiday. Volunteers assist group leaders with all aspects of the camp, ie direct care, activities on and off site, general upkeep of centre facilities, domestic duties, (cooking, cleaning, laundry etc.). When assisting group leaders and participating in activities your personal pleasure comes second (if at all!) to ensuring the participation and enjoyment for each other member of the group. This is NOT easy. It requires observation and attention to ALL members of a group. Short term volunteers are required for one to four weeks. Long term volunteers for over four weeks.

Where: Cairngorms National Park in the Scottish Highlands.
Accommodation & Costs: Full board (on working days) and lodging are provided plus £30 pocket money per week. Accommodation is in caravans. Short term volunteers (one ot four weeks) may have to share. There is a laundry on site for your use. You must be completely independent, able and willing to look after yourself in all respects during your stay, especially on days off.

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RSPB Residential Volunteering

www.rspb.org.uk

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds works for the conservation of wild birds, other wildlife and the places in which they live. For the Residential Volunteering programme, the work varies from reserve to reserve. It often includes practical management tasks, working with visitors and helping with survey work. Some examples include cutting, clearing and burning dead vegetation, directing visitors to points of interest and showing them wildlife, staffing visitor centres and counting rare butterflies. Residential volunteers are usually needed for between three and six months.

You will not need special skills for most of the volunteering opportunities the RSPB have but a genuine interest in and enthusiasm for birds and wildlife conservation is essential. You should be willing to help, even with mundane jobs. At sites where the work includes helping visitors to the reserve, you must feel comfortable talking to people. Volunteers from overseas must have good conversational English. Some reserves require volunteers able to tell their kittiwakes from their herring gulls and a driving licence may be required so you can drive RSPB vehicles. The RSPB also offer internships and other volunteer roles where volunteers can participate for a day, week or month

Where: All over Britain.
Accommodation & Costs: There is no charge to take part but it is your responsibility to cover the cost of your transport to and from the reserve, and to provide and cover the cost of your food during your stay. The RSPB will provide accommodation, together with basic services, free of charge for the period you are volunteering, and cover any expenses incurred as a necessary part of your work on the reserve.

Volunteering in the UK

 

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Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales

www.welshwildlife.org

Resident full time Wardens to oversee the running of Skomer Island, open to visitors between April and October. Around half a dozen vacancies are available each week from March. Wardens assist with managing day visitors and overnight paying guests, conservation work and buildings maintenance. Other forms of volunteering are also available through the Trust. For a first hand account of volunteering on Skomer Island read about Sandra Young's experiences.

Where: Skomer Island. Other volunteer work is available throughout south and west Wales.
Accommodation & Costs: Accommodation is simple and volunteers need to bring their own food.

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The Eilean Bàn Trust

www.eileanban.org

The Eilean Bàn Trust, based at Kyleakin on the Isle of Skye, is a small independent charity dedicated to maintaining and managing Eilean Bàn, the island under the Skye Bridge where the author Gavin Maxwell lived. Each year they look for volunteers to help run the Bright Water Centre in Kyleakin as well as giving guided tours of the island and helping with island maintenance. An interest in wildlife (particularly otters) is desirable.

Where: Isle of Skye, Scotland.
Accommodation & Costs: Lodging for the term of volunteer work will be in the warden’s room of the cottage on Eilean Bàn with cooking and laundry on site for your use. A contribution of £30 per week will be paid towards food costs.

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Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust

www.ironbridge.org.uk

A World Heritage Site, the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust manages ten museums spread along the River Severn, one of the early sites of the Industrial Revolution. They offers a free lunch to volunteers who dress up in Victorian garb and demonstrate 19th century social and industrial skills to tourists. Other volunteer roles can include teaching, guiding the public, delivering welcome talks, directing visitors or helping out behind the scenes.

Where: Shropshire.
Accommodation & Costs: Accommodation, which you pay for yourself, is available in a hostel three miles away.

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Amnesty International

www.amnesty.org.uk

Amnesty run a minimum three month volunteer programme in their offices in London, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff. Volunteers are involved in campaigning, marketing, media and general support and can claim travel expenses and luncheon vouchers for the days they work. Volunteers who have worked at Amnesty for three months or more may request a reference. Head to their jobs page for volunteering information.

Where: London, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff.
Accommodation & Costs: Volunteers are self funding including finding their own accommodation.

 

Hostel Work Exchanges

Many hostels use help exchange networks (see below) to find volunteer staff but the following either advertise on their websites or are particularly noted for taking on volunteers:

Igloo Hostel

www.igloohostel.co.uk

Nottingham's Igloo Hostel has been running a small volunteer programme for the past few years, which they say has worked very well for everybody involved. Volunteers are welcome for six weeks to six months and receive free accommodation and food allowances.

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Inverarary Hostel

www.inverarayhostel.co.uk

Experienced in managing a hostel? Then Scotland's Inverarary Hostel might welcome your input for a week or more in return for travel expenses. Volunteer managers help them through the Spring low season before their paid managers take over for the main season. They also say they are interested to hear from persons or couples with experience of hostel reception or who have stayed in many hostels, who might be interested in volunteering with them.

 

Festival Volunteering in the UK

Typically the rewards of volunteering at a festival are a free ticket and a better camping pitch.

Glastonbury Festival

www.glastonburyfestivals.co.uk

Held on a farm in Somerset, Glastonbury offers a free ticket to volunteer litter pickers. Initially people who have worked successfully before are approached, thereafter applications are taken from those who get in touch with the Festival. Other tasks, such as stewarding, are contracted to outside firms and charities.

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Rockinbeerfest

www.rockinbeerfest.co.uk

Smaller and less glamorous festivals, such as this one in Cambridge, also want volunteers. Stewards work for four hours a day for two days in exchange for a ticket and free camping.

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Guardian Hay Festival

www.hayfestival.com

A literary festival held every year in Wales. Stewards are required to work shifts of three to four hours to ensure audiences are safe and happy before, during, and after each event.

 

Other Opportunities to Volunteer in the UK

If you know your George A Romero from your Lucio Fulci then this may be the volunteer opportunity you have dreamed of. 2.8 Hours Later provides the chance to wear the rotting shoes of a zombie for the day. And the reward? In return for running around and freaking people out for five hours you get a free game (worth £30) to try your luck as a survivour. Dates and locations around the UK are posted on their website.

PDSA, the UK's leading veterinary charity have 180 stores across the UK, and are in need of retail assistants for any period of time, any amount of hours, and any amount of days per week. There are no restrictions except that all volunteers are over the age of 14, can fill out an online or posted application form, and are able to attend an informal chat within one of their many stores.

 

Help Exchange Networks in the UK

Workaway - https://www.workaway.info/hostlist-GB.html
HelpStay - https://www.helpstay.com/projects-abroad?keywords=United+Kingdom&XID={XID_HASH}
HelpX - England | Wales | Scotland | Northern Ireland
WWOOF - http://www.wwoof.org.uk

 

More Volunteering in the UK Resources

Vinspired.com - A government initiative to promote volunteer work in the UK, this website provides a search for opportunities such as hostel work, disaster relief, with emergency services and includes under 16 volunteering.

 

Other Ways to Travel or Stay for Free in the UK

Stay for free in return for caring for local residents' homes or pets. Join Trusted Housesitters to live rent free as a house sitter (Americans may prefer this link). Britain always has loads of house sits available and you can also get a free $25 Airbnb credit from us here.

 

Volunteer Experiences*

The Zombie Chase – Part 2 - Amy Blyth, with video demonstrations from boyfriend Andrew, describes her day at zombie school on her blog.
What it is Like to Volunteer on Skomer - Sandra Young reflects on her weeks’ volunteering with birdlife on Skomer Island, off the coast of Wales.
Beacon: Blists Hill Victorian Town - James Carpenter dresses up as a Victorian for the day for one of the museums operated by the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.
To Gap or Not to Gap? - Rather than going on a year long backpacking holiday, Sarah took a placement with the Year in Industry scheme and spent ten months working at the Royal Institution of Great Britain.
What Are Ya Doing Chad? - Chad tells us what he was up to last year when he was volunteering in a backpackers hostel in Belfast.
Volunteering in a Hostel in Northern Ireland - While she didn’t initially care much for the city, Belfast kind of grew on Els thanks to the owner of Arnies Backpackers.
The Price Paid to Volunteer….Time and ££ - Nicola Lazenby details her expenses volunteering at sporting events, including at the 2012 London Olympics and 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

 

* not all these volunteer experiences are with grassroots NGOs or low cost organisations

Images courtesy KotomiCreations, Chris Cant,