Voluntourism – UK?
If you’re planning to stay in London for more than a few weeks, you might want to think about how best to really experience the city. Sightseeing and clubbing are fun, but if you’re looking to get a taste of real life in the city, there are various other ways of getting the most out of your time.
Most people don’t automatically associate the UK with ‘voluntourism’ – that is, working for charity in a foreign country. If this is your main aim, you’ll probably be planning a trip to help at a safari park in Africa or disaster relief in south-east Asia. But although you may initially travel to the UK for other reasons, many people find that doing a short volunteer placement is a great way to discover the real day-to-day life of the city. For many causes including refugee help, arts charities, and mental health and
autism education UK-based organisations are world leaders, and experience gained in London will be valuable in many places. Volunteering, or working in a short-term job, also has the bonus of bulking out your CV – so you can answer something more than ‘travelling’ when people ask what you’ve been up to!
One obvious way to go is to volunteer at a residential organisation that offers you the chance to live together in a community with the people you’re helping.
If you want to work in mental health, autism education (helping those with autistic-spectrum disorders to navigate the social world), or
Aspergers Syndrome education UK branches of the charity
L’Arche may be the way to go. L’Arche has houses all over the world, so you might even be able to go and find out about the charity at a local branch before you leave for London. L’Arche has a collaborative approach, which stresses that volunteers can learn from the mentally disabled community members as well as the other way around, and this emphasis on shared experience should be central to your volunteering.
Residential volunteering has the advantage of keeping your living costs very low, as you won’t be paying rent or buying your own food. On the other hand, you’ll have far less flexibility than you would do staying independently. If you choose this option, it’s wise to get in a solid few weeks of sightseeing and enjoying the city before you start the project.
Alternatively, you can take up a volunteer placement at a school or residential centre. These are often available short term, or on a rolling basis (so that you stay for as long as you can). Many charities – notably ‘Autism Initiatives UK’ – can fit volunteers in at any time, days, evenings, or weekends. This kind of opportunity allows you to fit volunteering around an English course or paying job, as well as around tourist activities.
Paid charity work
Residential work also lets you cut down on your living expenses. ENA are one of the most highly regarded UK care agencies and sometimes have vacancies for temporary help – although if you can only commit for a couple of weeks, residential work probably isn’t for you.
Many organisations also need non-residential care workers, and there are quite a few care homes that have a fairly high rate of staff turnover. They probably won’t advertise in advance or online though – it’s best to research care homes in your chosen area when you get there, and then visit in person and ask if there’s work available.
What you need
All organisations will require fluent English – UK employers usually don’t speak anything else! You may also be asked to provide, or pay for, a CRB (UK criminal background) check, which is quickly becoming mandatory for care workers or volunteers.
To get exactly what you want out of your UK experience, it’s wise to research all these options thoroughly before you go. On the other hand, you might find opportunities presenting themselves to you while you’re away – keep a look out for advertisements or appeals for volunteers on London-based websites, or in free newspapers. Having a regular volunteering or paid work position while you’re travelling will give your trip structure and help you to really enjoy the city.