We got the van, now where we gonna park it?

Not during the next few months before we go, I have my fingers firmly crossed that it will fit on our drive tomorrow evening when I bring it home. I mean where are we going to park it during the year’s adventure.

Having broken our route down into four zones with rough timescales – Zone one, Southwest (Dorset, Devon, Cornwall) March, April, May, Zone two, North Wales, June, July, August, Zone Three, Scotland, September, October, November, a break in December as we hope to have a week with friends and some time over Christmas back home with family before finishing off in Zone four – the Southeast and East Anglia, January and February.

We started by going through all our hosts again in Zone One. Our initial selection of hosts to get down the list of 107 was done by simply reading them out and voting yes or no between the four of us. We now went through them looking for diversity in types of host and what they do on their land so we would get a good mix, checking they take WOOFers in March, April and May and looking at their website if they have one. Several of them do actually, intentional communities who recruit new members, businesses selling their produce, sustainable living types who run courses on site, smallholders who have camping or holiday home businesses running alongside.

We drew up a shortlist of our favourite 15 and emailed them all. We had a brief biography of each of us and us as a family, along with what we are doing next year and why. I then tailored the email personally for each potential host explaining why we had chosen them.

We are N, A, D and S. We are hoping to spend a year from March 2010 travelling around the UK WWOOFing. We have been hankering after a more self sufficient, greener, simpler lifestyle for several years and have been moving towards it in small ways in our home on the south coast of England. We have an allotment and grow food in our garden at home. We keep chickens, bantams, ducks and quails, most of which we have hatched in an incubator or bred from our own livestock. Our eventual goal is to become self sufficient and have as small an environmental impact as possible. We want to learn all we can about all the aspects of this lifestyle while getting a realistic idea of what it all entails. We are hardworking, fast learning, friendly and cheerful. Our children are well behaved, responsible and keen to learn alongside us.

Below is a little bit about us, the things we have done before and are doing now and what we’d rather be doing more of:

A currently works in retail support and merchandising of bedding plants. He has previously worked in all sorts of careers including Retail Management, game keeping, managing an indoor rollercoaster and a spot of TV presenting. A wants to leave the 9-5 behind, learn about rearing animals  and butchery, spend more time with his family and live a simpler life.

N has also worked in a  wide variety of jobs from Retail Management, Recruitment and Marketing but currently works part time at the local library whilst being at home with D and S. N had done some volunteer shepherding, overseen the hatching of over 100 birds, loves baking, preserving and is learning about wine and beermaking in an experimental fashion! N wants to learn more about beekeeping, dairy farming (including milking a cow, making cheese etc.), lambing, calving and growing fruit and vegetables. N can crochet, knit and sew a bit, has done some basket weaving, rag rug making and interested in natural crafts. N is a qualified Waste Prevention Advisor volunteer with the local council which involved a course learning about composting, real nappies, waste collection and processing, recycling and landfill and other green issues. N loves the idea of off-grid living and would love to learn more about sustainable, renewable and alternative energy and building.

D is ten and loves bushcraft, survival and being outside. He’d love to learn to drive a tractor and understand how it works. D loves animals, particularly sheep. His other passions are film making, drawing and storytelling.

S is nearly eight and loves animals. She has hatched and raised ducklings this year and is interested in breeding, rearing and keeping animals.

Both D and S enjoy baking, breadmaking, growing fruit and vegetables and learning about where our food comes from. They are interested in nature and wildlife, the world around them and how everything works. D and S have always been Home Educated.

We’d love to come and meet you and work with you and look forward to hearing from you.

We got a very diverse cluster of replies including some yes, no and possibles. I quickly realised that 15 potential hosts would not be enough to fill 12 weeks so emailed the other 15 on the short list too.

Replies are still trickling in, some have been direct ‘yes, you sound great, I’ve written you in the diary’ responses, similarly we have had some ‘no, we don’t have room for four people / the farm is too dangerous for children / we are already booked up with WOOFers for those dates / we’re no longer accepting volunteers’ along with a few more complicated replies, some of which are hopefully not insurmountable. We have had several who have had more questions for us and plenty who have said yes in theory but want us to contact them nearer the time to firm up dates.

I have had to come to terms with several points in this first leg of planning:

  1. I need to redraft the email! Lots of the replies said that we sounded like we could teach the hosts more than they could teach us. I had tried to strike a balance of coming across as useful and interested but fear I may have overstated us to sound like a band of travelling experts, which is not only not the case but may come across as either boastful or intimidating. I need to scale it down a little I think.
  2. I need to make our circumstances clearer. I have mentioned the campervan but not been specific about us being happy to live in it if hosts cannot actually accomodate us. Ideally we will be able to have access to a bath / shower, eat at least one meal a day with hosts and fingers crossed make use of things like washing machines, but we are up for living in our van and indeed camping in a tent during the warmer months.
  3.  I think I need to be slightly more speculative in our initial email. Mentioning the rough time we will be in the area and asking for a theoretical yes or no is probably sufficient initially with a follow up contact nearer the time to confirm things. It has been really tempting to want to have the entire year planned with everything totally sewn up. I’m quickly realising this is neither feasible or practical or indeed particularly desireable. I think a big part of the nature of next year will be learning to go with the flow and see where life takes us.

We do however have five weeks worth of WWOOFing hosts fully secured with dates, a further 4 weeks or so ready to confirm a date next year and a few more we are still conversing with to set dates.

I’m planning to redraft the email and start looking at our Zone two shortlist again, looking at the hosts websites if they have one and getting in contact with a less CV-esque intro email, being clearer about the campervan and giving a rough idea of the dates we’ll be in their area and asking if we sound suitable WOOFers to get back in touch nearer the time.

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