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Resources for Working Holiday leaders

Hardwick Hall, May 1996

Note for any overseas visitors: To avoid any confusion, before you read any further I'd like to point out that THE NATIONAL TRUST WORKING HOLIDAYS DESCRIBED ON THIS PAGE HAVE NO CONNECTION WITH ANY WORKING HOLIDAY VISA SCHEME. All you need for an NT Working Holiday is a tourist visa; the only requirements for overseas participants are that you are over 18, able-bodied, and have good enough English to understand the safety instructions on the worksite.

This page makes extensive use of extracts from the National Trust Working Holidays leaflet and brochure. The National Trust now has its own Volunteers' website at, complete with online Working Holidays brochure.

I did my first Acorn Camp (as they were then called) in May 1988. I had an ulterior motive - to complete the Residential section of my Duke of Edinburgh's Gold Award - otherwise I'd never have considered actually paying for the privilege of spending a week working for someone else! Our accommodation was the basecamp (a converted barn) at Dunham Massey, a stately home south of Manchester, and we spent most of the week edging and resurfacing a section of path at Alderley Edge in Cheshire. Everyone in the group got on really well and by the end of the week I was hooked - and I've never looked back!

Since that fateful week in 1988 I've done about a dozen more week-long working holidays all over England and Wales, as well as taking groups of friends away for "dirty weekends" of voluntary work (a lot of the basecamps are available free of charge to anyone who volunteers their services). Among other things, I've dredged millponds in Cheshire, assisted at huge open-air concerts in Devon and Kent, cleared out 18th century household ledgers from the servants' quarters in a Welsh castle, cleaned Winston Churchill's ponds and swimming pool, erected and painted assorted fences and gates, and done erosion control work on footpaths. The picture on my home page shows me on the Bronze Age burial chamber that I helped to rebuild on top of Pen-y-Fan in the Brecon Beacons. Sometimes the work is very enjoyable, sometimes it gets a little tedious, but you're guaranteed to be with a sociable bunch of people and nobody will force you to do a job that you're not happy doing. And at the end of it all, you leave with a virtuous feeling and several new friends. (You may also have blisters, bruises and stiff arms and legs, but think of the fitness advantages!)

The accommodation in National Trust basecamps is usually fairly basic but adequate, with bunk beds and hot showers. Cooking and washing-up is normally done on a rota system, with everyone taking turns. If you're the kind of person who wouldn't dream of staying in anything less than a four-star hotel then maybe it's not for you, but if you can cope with the idea of living communally for a week then I strongly recommend that you give it a try.

There are usually about 10-12 volunteers on a holiday, with a leader and assistant (or two co-leaders) who take care of the domestic side of things: catering, rotas, driving the minibus, and social activities (evenings, and one half-day on a week-long holiday, are free). On the worksite you'll usually have a National Trust warden looking after you, and any tools and safety gear that you need will be provided. Volunteers can be any age from 18 upwards (16 for certain types of project), and we get quite a few overseas visitors; I've been on working holidays with volunteers from France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Basque Country, the US, Canada and Japan. You can come with a friend if you like, but the Trust has a policy that no more than two people may attend a project together - this is intended to aid group dynamics by preventing cliques.

There's a range of types of holiday too:
Acorn Holidays (known previously as Acorn Projects, and before that as Acorn Camps)
The original "vanilla" working holiday - can cover a wide range of tasks. Open to anyone over 18 years of age.
Archaeological Holidays
For those with an interest in archaeology.
Construction Holidays
Usually involve building work of some description, for example drystone walls.
Events Holidays
Help with setting up, running and dismantling events such as open air concerts, horse trials, etc.
Oak Holidays
Similar to Acorn Holidays but aimed primarily at 35- to 50-year-olds.
Oak Plus Holidays
Similar to Acorn Holidays but aimed primarily at 50- to 70-year-olds.
Short Breaks
A condensed Working Holiday, about 3 days in duration.
NTrust Holidays
Similar to Acorn Holidays but specifically for 16- to 25-year-olds.
Touchwood Holidays
Working together with people with special needs.
Trust Active Holidays
A combination of conservation work and outdoor pursuits.
16 Plus Holidays
Similar to Acorn Holidays but aimed primarily at 16 to 18-year-olds.
Venture Holidays
10-14 days spent living and working together with a group of volunteers from another country.
Wildtrack Holidays
For those with an interest in zoology and/or botany.

Here's what the Trust's official leaflet (June 2002 edition) has to say...


Volunteer for a week or weekend and you can enjoy...

A place in the country
Over 470 holidays at 150 superb Trust locations in open country throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Stay in simple, but fully-equipped, farmhouse-style accommodation with a dozen like-minded people.

Good fun
Enjoy the teamwork during the day and relaxing evenings spent in good company, the rewarding tasks and pride in a job well done. If you want a really challenging break, some weeks also include two days of outdoor pursuits such as abseiling or mountain biking.

New friends
Meet new people, make lasting friendships. Ideal for independent people aged from 17 - 70. Working Holidays attract people who are friendly, enthusiastic and like to be involved.

Challenging tasks
Help manage an ancient oak wood, construct a coastal footpath, steward at an open air concert, carry out a hedgerow species survey, repair stiles and lots, lots more! No experience needed.

New skills
Develop or learn new skills. Work under the guidance of National Trust staff and holiday leaders. Gain experience while enjoying a holiday.

Great value and great for you
Book a Working Holiday from as little as £54 for a week (£29 for a weekend) which includes meals and accommodation. Book in for a healthier lifestyle - you'll feel the difference after an active day inthe countryside!
(Note for 2004: Week-long holidays now cost from £60 and Short Breaks £32.)

Free admission
Complete a week of conservation work and enjoy one year's free admission to National Trust properties.

Go on to learn about and contribute to the Trust's wider conservation programme.Take responsibility and train as a holiday leader, ideal for gaining practical experience and for enhancing your CV.

So get the brochure - join the fun!

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© Lynne Donaldson
This page last edited 26th February 2004