I’ve always thought about residential volunteering but wasn’t sure because…

Logo: RSPB

We asked Jane Shah, Residential Volunteering Development Officer some questions.

How long are residential volunteering opportunities usually for?

Residential volunteering opportunities last from 1 week to 1 year.

Do any of the opportunities include an element of professional training? And do I get certificates, proof of qualification or similar?

Some long term residential volunteering opportunities and our residential internship programme offer some professional certified training. The training offered is always role relevant, needs led and location dependent.

Volunteer at Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre, Rathlin Island, County Antrim (RSPB)
Volunteer at Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre, Rathlin Island, County Antrim (RSPB)

Do you have people who’ve completed residential volunteering that have then become employees either with RSPB or other similar organisations?

Yes, we have a good track record of long term volunteering and our internships leading to employment in the conservation sector as a whole, not just with the RSPB. Many long term volunteers and interns are now our wardens and site managers having started their conservation journey as a volunteer.

If I find that the placement doesn’t suit me or I discover a new found passion for a different area (e.g. moving from practical countryside management into environmental education) can I change direction / placements or do I need to finish the placement or perhaps leave and reapply?

It would depend on the circumstances and availability of other placements. We cannot always accommodate volunteer’s wishes although we would always try to do so.

If you have a family I don’t suppose there are many opportunities for family accommodation is there?

Unfortunately the RSPB residential volunteering programme is not available to families.

What about mobile coverage, wifi etc in the accommodation? Anything else, e.g. I'm arriving in my car what about parking? Pets?  

Most residential volunteering accommodation does not have a broadband connection, due mainly to cost and remoteness, however, we offer it where we can. Likewise mobile reception can be patchy. All accommodation has parking on site or nearby. Pets are not allowed in volunteer accommodation.

Do you ever have problems with shared accommodation - I'm thinking about personality clashes type problems - and how do you resolve issues such as these?

We are fortunate that problems with shared accommodation occur very rarely. There are a number of reasons for this. We do our best to manage expectations, and make it very clear in our literature what the nature of the living arrangements at each location are (shared bedrooms for example). Volunteers are asked to contact their volunteering location at least a week before arrival to discuss travel arrangements with the staff, and this gives them the opportunity to ask any questions they may have. Volunteers are encouraged to discuss any issues with their line manager as soon as they can, so that they can be dealt with quickly before they get out of hand. Volunteers and line managers have a network of support both in the regions and countries and here at HQ for confidential advice and guidance should the need arise. We also have formal RSPB policy that forms the backbone of our procedures for dealing with difficult issues.

If I am out of work and on job seekers allowance, can I still claim if I’m volunteering away from home?

Yes, you can claim Jobseekers Allowance or Universal Credit while you are volunteering. Usually there is a fortnightly sign on and we will accommodate volunteers who need to do this as far as practicably possible. We are sometimes able to provide information to support claims but we do not give benefits advice.

Volunteers building a new boardwalk, Greylake RSPB reserve, Somerset Levels (David Kjaer
Volunteers building a new boardwalk, Greylake RSPB reserve, Somerset Levels (David Kjaer

How do a lot of your volunteers afford it, do they have some savings that they live off or can you work at the same time as volunteering, perhaps in the evening?

Anecdotally we know that some work in advance of applying to save up to support themselves, some claim benefit and some do find part time jobs. However, residential volunteering is full time 5 days a week, and not necessarily Mon – Fri 9 to 5. It can involve an element of weekend working and late starts/early finishes for which time off is given in lieu. We have a duty of care to ensure our volunteers do not overstretch themselves.

Can I keep job hunting whilst I'm volunteering with you? And what happens if I get a job in the middle of my placement?

Yes, you can, and we actively encourage our volunteers to do so. The whole point of residential volunteering placements is to equip you with the skills and experience you need for employment in the conservation sector. If volunteers get jobs and leave then we count that as success!

To find out more about volunteering check out  

Below we hear from a previous RSPB Volunteer who got the job. Jeff Knot is now the Regional Director for RSPB Eastern England.

Jeff Knott, the region’s new director, says hello!

Jeff Knott ©Blanaid Denman
Jeff Knott ©Blanaid Denman

I first volunteered for the RSPB as a fresh faced teenager, when I joined the Phoenix Forum – a group of young people who help run the membership for our teenage supporters. This was a great experience which not only fired my passion for the natural world, but showed me just how vital volunteering is to the RSPB. After stints as a volunteer warden at our Blacktoft Sands and Arne reserves (I missed out on Havergate Island after the person I was supposed to be volunteering with fell out of a tree and broke their arm!), I was lucky enough to fall into a job in the policy teams at the Lodge. Eleven years later, and slightly less fresh faced, I’m incredibly excited to be starting as RSPB’s Regional Director in Eastern England. I’ve lived in the region for the past 15 years, both while at university in Norwich and more recently in rural Cambridgeshire, so have seen first-hand, the amazing work we do and the huge contribution volunteers make. Volunteers founded the RSPB and I’m constantly amazed by how we have all built on that legacy, with the huge skill and variety of ways volunteers continue to support the organisation and drive it forward. Volunteering is at the heart of the RSPB’s ability to save nature and I look forward to working alongside you all to keep that legacy going.

First published in CJS Focus on Volunteering in association with TCV, the community volunteering charity on 17 September 2018

More on: