Volunteer in the United Kingdom
Home > Northern Europe > United Kingdom | Written by Adam Fraiel and Shay Gleeson | Last updated on 11th Jan, 2023.
The UK, the home of Harry Potter, football and fish and chips. There’re also thousands of years worth of history, 4 unique and individual countries to explore and a lot of fun to be had when you volunteer in the United Kingdom.
In a couple of hours, you can see major international cities, mountains (albeit small ones) and beach towns. Ancient history, modern luxury and stunning natural beauty - the UK has it all.
Grab a pint in a pub, catch a game of footie or bagsy a front-row seat for a West End Musical. Get stuck in! (If any of that didn’t make sense, keep in mind - we don’t all speak like the Queen).
Steps to volunteering in the UK
Some quick facts
The UK is located off the northwestern coast of mainland Europe.
The currency in the UK is Pound Sterling (often shortened to just Pound) - £.
The languages spoken are English (98%), Welsh and Scots.
The capital city is London.
The population of the United Kingdom is approximately 66,650,000.
The best time to visit
With sunshine in the UK, you roll the dice and take your chances. You can have glorious sunny days in March or April, then shiver through May and carry your umbrella throughout June.
For example, April 2021 in the UK had the lowest average minimum temperature for almost 100 years, yet also saw almost 50% more sunshine than normal.
July and August are normally more reliable, with September offering pleasant temperatures and lower prices. The south of the country usually has the better weather, regardless of the season.
Winter can be really miserable. While it’s nice to get wrapped up and wander around the Christmas Markets (hopefully they’ll return this November), the cold temperatures mixed with howling winds, hail, sleet and snow have caught out many unprepared travellers.
Food and drink
Although the UK isn’t renowned for its cuisine, you’ll never go hungry.
Classic meals include a full English/Irish breakfast, Haggis with a side of neeps and tatties, and Boxty. There are lots of other regional variants and local takes on classic dishes.
You can find Fish and chips in every corner of the land, either fresh from the sea or deep-fried and swimming in grease. Ask around for local recommendations as everyone’s got their favourite Chippy (fish and chip shop).
For the sweeter tooth, a classic Tea Room will provide all the cakes, scones and biscuits your belly could desire.
Why should you volunteer in the UK?
The UK isn’t the cheapest place. If you’re planning to travel around and explore all 4 countries, you’ll need a lot of savings. You'll find out more details at the following link about the cost of living in the UK.
The money you’ll save on accommodation will free you up for the day trips and weekend vacations. Because of its relatively small size, days trips and weekends away are both practical and exciting ways to explore the UK.
The opportunity to slow down and live with local families will also introduce you to all the regional quirks and differences - join the great debates! Is it a muffin, barm, bap, roll or bread cake? How do you pronounce the word ‘scone’? Pie butties - delicious or just weird?
Transport around the UK is safe and reliable. Internal flights are the fastest way of getting around, although they’re usually also the most expensive. Trains are fast and secure but can be as expensive as flights. The cheapest option is usually coaches and buses. There’s a solid infrastructure that covers most of the country.
If you’re taking the train, you can make huge savings by splitting your ticket. It means breaking up the trip into smaller chunks. A little slower, but sometimes much cheaper than paying for a direct ticket.
How to volunteer in the United Kingdom?
When you’re writing your application letter, be specific! There’s nothing worse than sending a generic application to multiple hosts. That’s a good way NOT to be accepted.
For example, if I’m applying for a hospitality position in England, I’ll mention that I’ve experience volunteering in other hostels and working in bars.
Do you speak another language? Do you have experience in other forms of hospitality? Any practical skills you could transfer to help out around the building?
They’ll take all this information into account when deciding if you’re a great fit for the placement.
Your message should be courteous and polite, and address the host in a polite manner. Remember, good manners cost nothing. When messaging a host, your message should reflect the following:
Show that you’ve read the host listing and are aware of what is required.
Indicate how long you want to stay. State the dates that you’re thinking of and if you’re flexible around these dates.
Outline why you wish to volunteer with the host - why their project.
Indicate the kind of things you are interested in doing whilst you’re in the host country, whilst not volunteering with them.
Mention any specific talents you have and/or ideas about activities you might like to do - projects you might work on.
Mention any special dietary requirements.
How can I volunteer abroad for free?
There are no fees for any projects that we list in the UK. Not only is volunteering in the United Kingdom a wonderful way to see the country, learn new skills, help others, and experience the local lifestyle -- it's a great way to reduce accommodation costs.
All work exchange opportunities that we list in the UK include free board and lodgings. This means that hosts provide comfortable and secure accommodation and healthy grub in exchange for your volunteer help.
Some hosts provide additional perks. Perks such as the use of a bicycle or car to explore the area in your free time, a voucher to gain access to a local amenity or a local excursion to a spot that is off the beaten tourist path.
Are British people friendly?
While not as huggy and kissy as Spaniards, Italians or Latin Americans, the British are not as cold as the stereotype. With multicultural towns and cities all over, you’ll find a smile and friendly advice wherever you go.
How should I dress? The weather can change from hour to hour, day to day. It’s best to layer up rather than wear big heavy clothing. While volunteering, always dress appropriately. Check with your host before travelling to avoid any issues.
Safety, Covid-19 and Travel Insurance
Pickpockets operate in the major cities - London, Belfast, Edinburgh, Cardiff etc. Don’t have your valuables on display and keep your wallet and documents in a secure place (your pockets are not a secure location). They tend to operate near underground stations, tourist hotspots and busy shopping streets, but be mindful at all times.
Never buy drugs from street sellers. You could end up very sick, with a huge fine from undercover police or even prison. Avoid eye contact but, if they persist, be firm and carry on walking.
Always keep your belongings with you. Unfortunately, there will always be opportunists looking to take unattended bags or items.
Covid-19 will continue to be with us for some time and will affect our ability to travel freely. You can find the latest travel-related information at the following link in relation to the UK and Covid-19.
We do advise that you have appropriate travel and health insurance when travelling to the United Kingdom. Our motto is -- it's better to be safe than sorry. Any travel insurer should be able to provide you with the correct cover. Our preferred insurance partner is SafetyWing.
Do you need to know English in the UK?
While 38% of the country speaks a second language, it’s fairly important that you have at least a basic level of English.
Most places are multicultural so you’ll likely bump into fellow natives, and you’ll always come across other travellers in the big cities. Volunteers can usually get by using basic English, however, if you want to gain a deeper understanding of the culture, a little effort goes a long way.
What’s the difference between the United Kingdom, Great Britain and The British Isles?
The United Kingdom includes England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Great Britain includes England, Scotland and Wales.
The British Isles is a collection of over 6,000 islands, of which Great Britain is the largest.
When to start planning
As with any endeavour it's all in the planning. In the words of Benjamin Franklin - 'If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail'.
We suggest you start planning your volunteer stay 3-4 months before travelling, as that will give you plenty of time to contact a few suitable hosts, get to know them a little, agree on the finer details of your stay, book your flights and put a backup plan in place.
Do I need a visa to volunteer in the UK?
This depends on your nationality. Many nationalities enjoy visa-free travel to the UK for stays of up to 90 days.
If your passport does not meet the eligibility requirements, not to worry. Online sites like Byevisa can help you out with this by offering a one-stop-shop for your visa needs. All our opportunities in the UK fall under the category of a tourist visa.
Please keep in mind that HelpStay is NOT paid work or volunteering. You share your skills and time in exchange for a place to sleep. No money is exchanged or is this a job. HelpStay is purely a shared hospitality arrangement and members are guests of their hosts.
Applying to volunteer
As a non-member, you can read all the available details about any given work exchange opportunity in the UK. You only need to become a member once you have read all the information and are ready to move to the next stage of planning your stay.
The membership fee allows you to message and communicate with the host directly using our secure messaging system. Once a member, you start by completing the ‘About You’ section in your dashboard. Your profile should include:
Where you would like to go.
When you’re planning on travelling.
The project types that interest you.
Information about you - this is where you sell yourself so make sure that you put your best foot forward :)
Once you populate all these fields, you can message hosts.
Getting there and backup plans
When you’ve agreed terms of your stay with a host, you can then book your flight to the UK. As outlined in our volunteering abroad guide, it's important to have a back up plan. This way, in case things go wrong, you have a plan that’s doable -- logistically and financially.
Be sure to have a plan B that works for you. Imagine what you would do if something went wrong -- Go back home? Stay somewhere else? Get another volunteering opportunity in the UK? Take another flight? In essence, you need to be well prepared.
Volunteering opportunities in the UK