Volunteer in United Kingdom
What to Know Before Volunteering in United Kingdom
The United Kingdom is a pocket-sized gem. A former global superpower, with colonies covering one third of all land on Earth, the UK is now smaller both in size and stature on the world stage. However, its culture and consequent tourist appeal remains as rich as ever. From the rugged mountains of the Highlands of Scotland to the historic awe-inspiring city of London, a melting pot of cultures throughout the globe, its variety attracts millions of visitors each year. One of the best ways to see the country is undoubtedly through volunteering work, where you can not only see the sights, but meet the people and feel like you are making a difference along the way.
Volunteering in the UK mostly centres around the major cities and areas of natural beauty. If you are after long-term volunteering opportunities, companies such as Volunteering Matters and Simon Community can provide accommodation and a modest allowance in exchange for 6-12 months volunteering work. This work often centres around helping the homeless and those most in need. If you are after more casual, short-term volunteering work, summer is the best time to look, as many holiday camps require volunteers to operate. Many also offer bed and board. If you are a nature lover, there is an abundance of volunteering opportunities at national parks, where you may be asked to do conservation work. Bird lovers can volunteer at hundreds of RSPB reserves across the country.
English is by far the most commonly spoken language in the UK. However, depending on which part of the UK you are in, you may have to get used to the different dialects! The accent spoken in Devon, for example, is very different to the accent spoken in Northumberland. Regional languages still play a part in British culture: Welsh is spoken in Wales, Gaelic in North-West Scotland, Cornish in Cornwall and Irish in Northern Ireland. However, most speakers of these languages still have English as their first language, so communication should not be a problem.
Complaining about the weather is a popular British pastime, and not without good reason! The UK has a temperate climate, with lows of up to -5°C in winter and highs of up to 30°C in summer. On average, though, expect temperatures of around 13°C, often accompanied by rain! There are also regional differences; if you are, for example, intending to volunteer in the highlands of Scotland, you should not be surprised if you experience days of rain and cold temperatures, even in summer. In short, the weather is unpredictable, so you should be prepared for every eventuality. The BBC Weather website provides weather forecasts for anywhere in the country.
GB Pound Sterling is used throughout the UK. You should be able to exchange money in every major population centre and most villages still have either a bank or ATM machine (these are known as ‘cash points’ in the UK). Be advised that bank notes issued by Scottish and Northern Irish banks look different to those issued in England and Wales, but have the same value. Also be advised that recently the value of the pound has been known to fluctuate with the ongoing political uncertainty surrounding Brexit.
Timings and weekends
The UK operates a 5-day working week from Monday to Friday. Saturday and Sunday are known as the weekend. Historically, most shops closed on Sunday, but nowadays most are open just with shorter opening hours. Attractions are much busier during weekends. There are approximately 5 bank holidays per year in the UK. These are usually on Monday or Friday, and effectively extend the weekend. Holiday times fluctuate every year, so it is important to check an up to date calendar to avoid problems.
Markets and Bargaining
Bargaining is not common in the UK, as almost every item has a fixed price. There are often weekly markets in towns, selling artisan foods and items. However, if on a budget, it is advised to buy your essentials at supermarkets, as they are usually much cheaper. A trip to market, however, is a wonderful way to experience British culture, as they are often accompanied by live music and other events.
The UK prides itself on its cultural and religious diversity. Its heritage ensures that a wide range of religions are practised without fear or hindrance. The main religion practiced is Christianity, and all villages will have at least one church. These churches are often open for people to look inside. In all major cities, you will find at least one synagogue, mosque, gurdwara and Hindu temple accompanying the many churches. Many cities also contain a Buddhist temple. In short, you can freely practice your religion in the United Kingdom without fear of persecution.
British people love their food! The pub tradition is still alive and kicking in the UK, and many people still pop down to their local pub for a Sunday roast and a pint! The UK’s rugged and extensive coastline also means it has a strong maritime tradition too, resulting in perhaps its most famous tasty export: fish and chips. A vibrant South Asian community in the UK also means that curry houses are found in almost every town. These are often accompanied by Chinese takeaways, allowing visitors a tasty choice in what to eat! Major cities have even more variety, providing an eclectic mix of dishes from around the world, at varying prices. In short, you won’t go hungry in the UK!
A wide range of cultures means a wide range of clothing is acceptable. I cannot think of many circumstances where you are not allowed to wear casual clothing (e.g. shorts) except perhaps if you intend to visit religious sites. Be sure to pack warm layers, especially waterproofs! If you intend to volunteer in National Parks, you should pack sturdy clothes and shoes, as terrain can be wet and rough.
The UK is small enough that it is usually easy to get to any part of the country using public transport within a day. There are high-speed railway lines between all major cities, although these are not as fast as their equivalents on continental Europe. Depending on the time of day, prices can also be very high. Long distance buses in the UK are known as ‘coaches’ and there is an extensive network of these at affordable prices throughout the country. The main coach company is National Express, while Megabus operates major routes at prices as low as £1. Citylink is the main coach company in Scotland.
Rental prices in London are famously high, so if you wish to volunteer long term in London, it is advised to go with a volunteering company that provides accommodation. If you wish to volunteer short-term, the Youth Hostel Association runs hundreds of hostels throughout the UK that are reasonably affordable. You may be charged different prices for a private room or dorm room. If you enjoy camping and are volunteering in the countryside you may be allowed to pitch your tent on site free of charge, as long as you don’t leave a mess!
There is no major crime problem in the UK. It is advised to wear your backpack on your front in major population centres to prevent pickpocketing. In emergencies, you can call the number 999 free of charge from any phone and ask for whatever emergency service you require.