Have you ever wished you had a friend who WANTED to join you on your adventure renovating your home or running your business, whether it’s setting up a yoga retreat or building pens for chickens or even just getting the house or garden a bit tidier? Someone who is willing to help you look after your holiday home, gite or B&B? Keen to help out with getting your vegetable seeds planted, walking the dogs or whatever else it is that you’d like to get support with.
You’re not alone.
Lots of people move to France and have big renovation projects or wonderful ideas for creating a home, garden, business. Friends and family offer to help but what most people find is that though the proposal is made willingly, more often than not, the real help doesn’t materialise.
Workaway.info connects volunteers from all over the world with people who’d like a hand with their projects. The Workawayers, as they are called, are people looking for a cultural experience and a chance to live life like a local and immerse themselves in day to day life. We meet four hosts who reveal their experiences of Workaway.info’s cultural exchange opportunities in France.
Case History 1 Dairy Farm Northern France
Host Isabel Murphy who runs a farm in northern France says “Workaway.info for me has been a wonderful experience. It is very much a ‘you get back what you put in’ experience. I have had people from Germany, UK, Hungary and Ireland.
“Some have been as young as 16, Full of energy and wonder, enthusiasm and the ability to make divine chocolate cakes! A professor from Germany brought philosophy and calm wisdom with him, he took time away from his family and work to experience a different pace of life on a French dairy farm. Another Workawayer was studying law at Cambridge… utterly hopeless with a paintbrush but I appreciated her debating skills and we argued into the night. I’ve had three young men who were all individually embarking on bike trips around Europe, fresh off the ferry they were energetic. Some needed mothering, some just peace and quiet. Some volunteers are skilled, some need constant guidance but all are willing. A family came once with their 6 year old daughter, they were on a quest to learn as much about alternative lifestyles as possible as they hoped one day to build their own house and be as self-sufficient as possible. Even their daughter contributed by doing a mosaic tiling extravaganza on a garden table! And the wife who was Puerto Rican did fabulous things with pork belly!
“Were it not for these young people and their varying skills I would have no terrace to sit out in, no repaired walls, erected fences, cleared attics, painted courtyard/house/ceilings, no skirting boards no garden path, no kitchen shelves, no painted dairy. They have helped with the milking, some getting up tirelessly every morning and working alongside my French partner, struggling with the language but shovelling la merde without complaint. Some have taught Irish jigs to a group of bemused elderly French!
I have kept in touch with a few and some of them are coming back this year to visit. We exchange Christmas cards and Facebook updates.”
Case History 2 Holiday Homes near Carcassonne
Honor Davis Marks lives near Carcassonne in a beautiful home with three luxury holiday apartments. She says “our Workawayers join in our daily life and help out whether that’s planting tomatoes, dog sitting or oiling the sun loungers. They join in socially as well, accompanying us to the beach and sometimes much more exotic trips like joining us at wine tastings or attending a truffle fair.”
Honor loves to share the best places to visit with her volunteers. From boulangeries where the locals queue, drawn in by the scent of freshly baked bread, bars where you’re assured of a warm welcome, the best place to take stunning photos of the local landscape. “Encouraging them to see the sites and learn how we live in France is a very big part of the process. We’re really flexible about what and how people help us and we’ve become friends with lots of them and some return to stay with us as friends.
“It’s a great opportunity for people to see a bit of the country and have a ‘sort’ of a holiday by helping us out in exchange for board and lodging – it’s a win-win situation.
I wish I had known about this website years ago”
Case History 3 Self-sufficient smallholding in Normandy
Jennie Poate is an English financial adviser for a UK financial company specialising in helping expats in France. She and her husband and 83 year old mother live in Normandy where they love the rolling hills, laid back lifestyle, green pastures and country way of life.
“We have a smallholding and raise our own animals for meat and veggies for food and for the last 6 years we’ve had help with everything from keeping mum company, housesitting, helping with the animals, learning to cook or managing the woodland we have.”
The ethic of sharing their daily life and the culture of France comes naturally to this family: “almost everything we put on the table is homemade, from the garden or bartered for. Lots of people come for the experience of making jams, pate, honey, sausages etc. We have had people join us from all over the world; ages have varied from 17-70 and they’ve stayed from one week to 3 months, many have become friends and some return over and over.
I love the cultural exchange, different ideas, foods ethics, it makes for stimulating talk around the table! Trying to be self-sufficient is tough on time, labour intensive and very seasonal. Depending on the time of year, they could be harvesting apples and making cider, plucking their first chicken, hatching chicks, making dandelion honey, elderflower champagne or planting potatoes.
Case History 4 Renovating a house in Centre
Tim and Juliet Stringer, from Kent moved to their “run-down” house and barn in Crozon-sur-Vauvre in the southern Indre. Taking early retirement they decided to convert the barn to a gite and registered as hosts after friends recommended workaway.info.
“Within a few days we had a wonderful young English couple enquire to stay with us. They were graduates and decided to take a year out before taking up post grad positions working for Fujitsu and the Forestry Commission respectively.
“They immediately got stuck in and helped us with huge enthusiasm; one of them actually returned 3 months later to help Tim knock through windows in the barn. They’ve since spent a week’s holiday with us and are due to return.
We always involve our workawayers in family life, eating with us, inviting them out with us, joining us in our jive lessons, playing cards, and our friends welcome them as part of our family. It has been a two way experience. In return for help we aim to make their stay interesting and fun. We exchange recipes; Jacob from Canada taught us how to play the card game Basra and Mario, a CAD designer left us with a sour dough culture. We’ve taught them about life in France and bee keeping!
We treat and feed the young people we invite into our home as we would like our own two sons to be treated if they were far from home. There is always plenty of cake!
We have been extremely fortunate in the people we have had stay; they’ve been enthusiastic and hardworking, wanting to see a job to its completion. I think to an extent the Workaway.info process is self-monitoring about the type of person who undertakes volunteering whilst travelling. We went into hosting workawayers without really knowing what to expect but we have gained much more than the work that’s been completed. We’ve struck up lovely relationships and made friends for life and have open invitations to Australia and New Zealand which we will take up when we travel in the next couple of years.”
A real cultural exchange.
Register as hosts or volunteers and find loads of information at Workaway.info