It’s a pity that the United Kingdom is often overlooked as a destination for those searching for an international volunteer experience. This dynamic country has something to offer nearly anyone looking to pitch in a helping hand. With rural and urban, as well as traditional and modern locations, each unique in their own right, this nation just a few hours across the pond has nearly unlimited opportunities for volunteers like you.
You may find yourself implementing conservation efforts on historical landmarks, helping to resettle refugees in cities, or maintaining trails and waterways on misty moors. Whatever the case, volunteers in the United Kingdom will find their experience to be rewarding for them while making a positive impact on their host community.
There are many different types of volunteer programs available in the United Kingdom. Take a look at some of the types below for inspiration.
While the legendary primordial forests that once covered Great Britain are gone, much effort is being made to conserve and restore the wild places that remain. As the population of the UK continues to rise, more and more development is threatening the landscapes that inspired poets like Wordsworth and Burns. Your efforts can do much to help protect them.
While volunteering on a conservation-related project you may find yourself restoring habitat for threatened animals and plants, educating the public, maintaining trails, and conducting wildlife surveys. This is your chance to experience some of the most stunning scenery in the country while protecting it at the same time.
The Celts, Romans, Normans, Britons, Vikings, and Saxons all left their mark on this land. Every summer, archaeological excavations seek to uncover the ancient mysteries of the UK. This is an opportunity to be on the front-line of historical discovery as you swing a pickax or trowel to uncover the remains of this land’s legendary past.
As a volunteer on an archaeological excavation, you might just be part of discovering the next big clue to unraveling this nation’s history. The people of the UK are proud of their storied past and your participation in uncovering the clues left by their ancestors is an important part of ensuring that future generations have access to this rich legacy.
Despite its large cities, the United Kingdom is still a very agriculturally rich country. This makes it a great place to volunteer in farm-work or animal husbandry. Whether you’re sheering sheep in the Welsh hillsides, implementing organic planting techniques in community gardens, or planting an experimental strain of wheat in the Cotswolds, you’ll find plenty of practical opportunities to get dirt under your fingernails.
There are countless ways that you can help out as a social worker in the United Kingdom. Lending a hand helping children in youth development centers, refugee programs, and senior living facilities is a great way to do good while embedding yourself in a local community.
Volunteering in social work can take you almost anywhere in the country. From rural villages to inner-city neighborhoods, your services will be greatly appreciated by the people you reach.
Planning Your Trip
Planning your time volunteering in the United Kingdom should be based on the type of program you are considering. This will determine factors such as location, housing, and what to bring.
If you’re from North America you may feel that there is not much cultural difference between you and the people of the UK. Don’t be fooled. While they may seem subtle, cultural expectations across the pond are different from what you’re used to and it’s best to approach your time there as you would while visiting any other foreign country.
Where to Volunteer in the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom is a diverse nation. While volunteering there you could find yourself in dense urban centers or remote moors or coastlines. London, Belfast, Bristol, and Edinburgh are popular cities for volunteers. Some projects will take you to more out of the way locations. It all depends on the experience that you choose.
Housing & Accommodation
Your living arrangements will depend greatly on the program that you take part in. They can range from dorm-style housing to a studio or a homestay. You may even find yourself camping in a tent.
If accommodation is not provided with your program, start apartment (or rather flat) hunting as early as you can. Housing in cities can be expensive, so build this into your budget.
Language Requirements & Tips
Not surprisingly, a large draw of volunteering in the United Kingdom is that you won’t need to learn a new language. English will serve you well throughout the entire country. You’ll find that some words and spellings vary a bit from American English, but not enough to cause any serious problems. In fact, it can be amusing to compare these little differences.
In Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland there has been a resurgence in teaching the local variations of Gaelic. It certainly is not necessary to learn these languages, but memorizing a few greetings will be much appreciated by your hosts.
What you pack will depend mostly on the time of year you’ll be in the United Kingdom. Winters are cold and dark, so come prepared. However, even in the summer, it may be pretty cool, so always bring a sweater or light coat with you. Rain gear will serve you well at any time of year.
When in cities and even most towns, you’ll be able to find most anything you might have forgotten to pack, so don’t worry too much if you neglect to bring something. Besides, London’s famous department stores are a great place to pick up an unexpected souvenir.
The UK has great cell phone coverage, but if you want to avoid hefty roaming charges, it’s best to pick up a local sim card. Also, a voltage and plug adapter will allow you to keep all your tech charged.
US citizens can visit the UK for up to six months without a visa. Just make sure that your passport doesn’t expire within that time-frame.
The United Kingdom is not the cheapest country to spend time in. The cost of living, particularly in cities, is at least as high as it is in the United States. Volunteer programs that provide room and board are a great way to defray the costs, but keeping a budget will be helpful throughout your time there.
Health & Safety
There is little you need to worry about in particular while spending time in the United Kingdom. Overall, it’s a safe country with a modern and accessible healthcare system. Just remember that the cars are coming from the opposite direction than you’re used to when you cross the street.
The UK has some of the highest-rated healthcare facilities in the region. Should you need to visit a hospital, you’ll find that it is exceedingly inexpensive, if not free. There are no required vaccinations to visit the country, but the CDC recommends you stay up to date with the basic ones.
The UK is generally a very safe country. Take common-sense precautions of course. Don’t stay out too late at the pub to stumble home by yourself. Beware of pickpockets in crowded spaces and watch out for hooliganism near stadiums on game days.
The remote stretches of the countryside offer their own dangers. Never go hiking alone and don’t rely on cell reception when far from town. The weather can turn in an instant. What can start as a sunny and warm morning can become a freezing downpour by midday. Don’t be caught unprepared.