It’s late autumn and I’m sitting alone, feeling empty, in a comfortable house in High Wycombe. It’s 5.30 and I’ve just returned from work; I’m a single moderately successful professional doing the 9-5 in a very ordinary existence. The late afternoon is dark and moody and I’ve closed the door, drawn the curtains, sat on the sofa and felt blank. As I sit, like an avalanche it hits me that unless I go to the pub, or phone a friend and make a polite arrangement (a lot of my friends are in couple-dom or have families and don’t do drop-in), this existence is my lot for the coming three months of winter: work all day in my unsatisfying job, come home in the dark, sit on my own and.. do what? Get another pastime? Watch TV?? The meaninglessness suddenly feels crushing, the panic is rising and I think to myself with despair, and then with a glimmer of determination, there has to be more to life than this.
I identify that as the moment I glimpsed through the veil of zombie-like existence which features so strongly in the pattern of our cultural norm. What I saw caused molten bubbles of desperation to rise and with them, a raw impulse to rip out the drip-feed of my anaesthetised status and find an alternative way.
I think possibilities are always present, but it’s only when you’re open to them that you see them. Wide eyed and charged, I heard rumours of redundancies and presented myself as an ideal candidate. Annoyingly they wouldn’t let me go! But I too can be annoying with my persistence, and it was third time lucky. Having prepared beforehand I was suddenly free to go off to Costa Rica and follow a teen dream of working in wildlife conservation. Through Green Volunteers. I was with a team helping leatherback sea turtles safely lay their eggs, and their hatchlings return to the sea. It was a great experience and a fantastic cause, but the thing to have lasting impact was a discovery thought another traveller. She told me about the concept of WWOOFing, where you could volunteer on organic and low impact sites in exchange for food, accommodation and learning. She also told me how some WWOOF hosts live together in intentional communities, something which struck a deep chord after my feelings of isolation back in England. I remember so clearly saying, impassioned, to this girl why don’t we have these things in the UK? To which she replied the life-changing words ‘we do!’ She went on to tell me all about her experiences WWOOFing in the UK at various big old houses which can be found in the directory of communal living Diggers and Dreamers.
The rest, as they say, is history. As soon I returned I began my research and a week or two later, I was WWOOFing at my first community in Oxfordshire. At my second WWOOF I had another life-change moment, because Redfield Community in Bucks was the home of Lowimpact.org and through that, soon to be the home of the WWOOF organisation in the UK. I was accepted to live at Redfield and through some enormous stroke of right-time-right-place luck offered a job managing the new WWOOF contract for Lowimpact.org. And almost ten years on I’m still here, now as WWOOF Chief Exec, and still loving it.
But I will never forget the day I woke up, and how conditioned and vacant I’d become, absent in my own meaning of life, and how hard it had seemed to get myself out of the situation I was in. And what I realise now is it’s critical who and what your influencers are. If I’d been in an area with any degree of ‘alternativism’ I might have stood a chance. But deepest Buckinghamshire wasn’t like that. Or perhaps with the internet now being so vast, it is easier. But still, the girl who told me about WWOOF in Costa Rica radically changed the course of my whole existence. Now I can grow food and look after animals, I have a network of like-minded friends throughout the world and I have my own smallholding. I am fulfilled, connected, grounded, purposeful…and evangelical.
WWOOF changed my life, and I’ve heard so many other people say the same in the course of 10 years with the organisation. So my message is this: don’t underestimate the change-making influence that you can have on those around you. Tell people about WWOOFing, or even better, if you’re casting around for a festive or birthday present but want it to be ethical, buy a gift membership. It only costs £20 (or £30 for a couple / family) and at worst you’re donating to an amazing educational charity and supporting the organic movement. At best, you might completely transform someone’s life for ever.
Get a WWOOF gift voucher here.
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
1John Vanden Heuvel December 4th, 2016
Wonderful story and her meaningful experience. I know these kind of stories are so true for thousands of people because for 25 years I founded and coordinated WWOOF Canada (and WWOOF Hawaii) feedback from WWOOFers and WWOOF hosts were always mostly positive. An amazing world wide organization.
2Ju clear December 5th, 2016
Ace. Getting out there being a community one love one world go go
3Scarlett Penn December 5th, 2016
Thanks John and you’re right, it’s amazing. That’s why we’re trying to spread the word further, we so often hear people say “I wish I’d have known about WWOOFing when I was younger!”
4Kathryn Knights December 6th, 2016
LOVE this blog! It’s totally on my wavelength. I’ve flirted with the idea of WWOOFing before, but never had the the courage to do it. I want to explore alternative ways of living and I think some time spent with WWOOFing hosts could be just what I need. ?
5Scarlett Penn December 10th, 2016
We thing there are loads of people out there like you Kathryn – it does take a lot of courage to go and do something like this when you don’t know the host. You could try going WWOOFing with a friend, at least for the first time, or choose a host quite close to home. If there’s anything else I can do to help you, do get in touch via the WWOOF UK website – we’re always keen to help people get started.