The striking coastline of the Irish Sea and the mountainous interior of Wales are breathtaking and largely untraveled compared to its more famous neighbors. The people of Wales have fostered a culture of fellowship that has persisted since the country’s formation. In fact, the Welsh name for Wales, Cymru, is derived from an old Celtic word meaning “fellow countrymen.” This sense of camaraderie translates to reciprocity among communities, and for international travelers looking to volunteer in Wales, it provides a unique environment to help out in.
Known as “the land of song,” Wales has a distinct cultural identity and language that is hard to come by outside its borders. If you’re into funky folklore, Celtic oddities, and rugged landscapes, then becoming a volunteer in Wales may be the perfect option for you. Keep in mind that Wales is a cute little country with a small population and few large cities, which means you’ll be able to thoroughly explore every secret nook and cranny of the Welsh countryside while volunteering in Wales.
Cardiff, the nation’s capital, is a bustling port town tucked away on the southeast coast. With impressive nightlife, medieval castles, and a wild entertainment scene, this city will offer a well-rounded look into Welsh life during your time off. And just in case the local breweries and the opera don’t tickle your fancy, you can check out the Olympic-standard whitewater facility or embark on a multi-sensory, interactive experience through time and space with Doctor Who at the Gallifrey Museum. Additionally, the city provides excellent access to some of Wales’ protected places, which are endearingly referred to as “Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.”
Swansea. A mere hour from Cardiff and sharing the same coastline is the quaint town of Swansea, where futbol reigns supreme over basically everything. Much smaller than Cardiff, this little city still has a lot to offer volunteers. For a nutritious breakfast, try a traditional delicacy of laver (a gooey paste made of boiled seaweed) served with bacon and local cockles. If you’re willing to brave chilly temperatures, throw on your wetsuit and head to Langland Bay, where surfing is possible most of the year.
Bangor. If you’re a person who loves both culture and adventure, consider volunteering in the oldest city in Wales. Bangor is a small town located on the coast of North Wales, where you can take a stroll down Bangor Pier or go for a looksee at Penrhyn Castle and Bangor Cathedral. To get your adrenaline pumping, you can zoom down the local zipline, where you can reach speeds of up to 100 mph at Zip World Snowdonia in Penrhyn Quarry, nestled among the mountains of north Wales. While the locals can speak Welsh, one of the oldest languages in Europe, the vast majority of people in Bangor speak English.
Volunteer Work in Wales
While volunteering in Wales, you’ll experience a quirky culture, new foods and a new language, and plenty of outdoor adventure. So, what kind of volunteer work in Wales interests you?
Social Work. In Cardiff, individuals can volunteer as a peer mentor and work to support individuals with learning disabilities to prepare for employment. You could also work with an intervention team to assist homeless populations by delivering food, handing out sleeping bags, and helping people live more independent lives.
Advocacy. In Swansea, it is possible to volunteer with refugee populations (especially if you are particularly good with languages) or design new youth group programs for disadvantaged young people. For all you athletic ladies out there, opportunities are available to become a lead cyclist coordinator for a group that advocates women’s involvement in sports.
Stewardship. If you go to Porthmadog (and, honestly, even if you don’t), head on over to the national park immediately. Through the park service, international volunteers can work on social and wildlife heritage projects in order to preserve the environment and culture that make Wales special, which include everything from conservation workdays to habitat management projects.
Costs & Affordability
In general, Wales is an affordable location to volunteer abroad in, especially when compared to the rest of the United Kingdom and Europe. Of course, if you choose to volunteer in Wales’ capital city, accommodations are likely to be more expensive than if you choose to volunteer in a more rural part of the country. Regardless, Wales is an excellent choice for penny pinchers who want a memorable and meaningful volunteer experience. Volunteer programs in Wales are typically very flexible, but tend to request that volunteers stay for at least three months. Most volunteer organizations cover daily transport costs for their volunteers, at the very least, however. Some volunteer organizations in Wales also cover room and board, and many are extremely helpful with volunteers’ arrival logistics.
Accommodations & Visas
As mentioned above, volunteer organizations in Wales typically provide housing or offer affordable accommodation options to participants. Wales has some of the lowest living costs in the region, but still maintains a high standard of living. You can expect accommodations to be similar to what you are used to, though maybe a bit smaller and it is possible that you will be sharing living spaces. If you are planning on volunteering in Wales for three months or less, you are not required to have a visa. Volunteers who are interested in staying in Wales for longer than 90 days will need to ask individual program providers to learn about options for long-term volunteering. No matter where you choose to volunteer in Wales, it will be important that your passport is current and valid for the duration of your time abroad. Check out GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory to find a designated embassy and check visa requirements for yourself.
Benefits & Challenges
Volunteering in Wales will provide you with the opportunity to contribute your skills to a community in need. Unlike other volunteer destinations, Wales does not require that you learn a new language, which can be helpful if you are traveling abroad for the first time. Wales offers a rare people and history that are found nowhere else in the world, and as an international volunteer in Wales, you will be one of a just a small number of travelers who have chosen to venture to this magical land. Additionally, since the country is already keyed into the volunteer game, your program options will be seemingly limitless.
However, it is important to be diligent in determining which projects will best fit your needs as an individual. Similarly, consider whether the project you choose to participate in will have the desired and positive impact on Welsh communities that you wish to leave.
The landscape is reminiscent of imagery from a J.R.R. Tolkien novel, the people are welcoming, and the culture is only experienced in this tiny 8,016 square mile vicinity. With plenty to explore and a national mindset that is already supportive of volunteer projects, you are sure to have an amazing time volunteering abroad in Wales.