The Stay-at-home Gap Year

The gap year represents an important time for many young people – a rite of passage marking the transition between school days and the adult world of university or the workplace. Traditionally an excuse to go back-packing around some of the world’s most interesting and unusual places, often working at least part of the time on environmental or ethical projects along the way, a growing number of gappers are now seeking similar opportunities in the UK.

Stay-at-home gap years offer an ideal way of reconciling the desire for a spot of independent adventuring and the chance to do something interesting and worthwhile before the need to get on with the rest of life kicks in, with a well-developed sense of environmental responsibility. For every young person who really wants a gap year, but is struggling to see how exactly all that travel fits in with being eco-friendly, taking a home-based approach might just be the answer. You don’t have to shelve your green conscience to have a gap year.

A Viable Alternative

In fact there’s a strong possibility that even more people would take up the chance to take a gap year doing valuable voluntary work if they didn’t feel that they had to go abroad to do it. That’s the conclusion that the independent think-tank, Reform Scotland, came to recently, suggesting that a suitable initiative would allow gap-year volunteers – from the whole of the UK – to come north of the border and get involved in conservation and charity work on British soil.

It is still early days on this particular project and as Reform Scotland itself points out, it would call for a specialist body to be set up to co-ordinate and organise everything, but elsewhere, other opportunities already exist, though typically on a smaller scale. The stay-at-home gap year is already a viable alternative – and getting bigger all the time.

Finding a Placement

In the absence of the sort of formal set-up envisaged by Reform Scotland, those looking for home-based gap years are going to have to do at least some of the spade-work for themselves. The UK is home to a wide range of charities, organisations and trusts involved in a whole range of worthy projects, ranging from energy conservation and habitat management, to breeding endangered wildlife. Some placements and volunteering opportunities are advertised, occasionally in the newspapers, but more usually in the organisation’s own publications or on-line, so it’s worth keeping your eyes open for any that appear.

An alternative approach that can sometimes turn up trumps is to simply get in touch directly and ask. In these cash-strapped days particularly, many voluntary organisations are only too glad of the help, but do make sure you’re honest with them about what you’re hoping to get out of the experience, and that you’re quite clear what they are going to give you in return. Smaller groups may be especially welcoming to the idea, but bear in mind that they may not have the breadth of experiences to offer that a larger one might have – though bigger organisations may not be able to be so accommodating.

If the DIY idea doesn’t really appeal, there are companies set up to help. Although they charge for their services, it does take much of the hard work out of finding the right opportunity, which has an obvious and undeniable appeal!

The Benefits

Aside of the most obvious benefit of reducing the environmental impact of your gap year, choosing to keep your travels within the UK can be particularly helpful when it comes to gaining valuable practical experience. For one thing, the organisations involved are likely to be more familiar with the needs of Britain’s universities and job market, so if you have a particular requirement in terms of course credits, for instance, it can often be much simpler to achieve at home, than abroad. In addition, although learning a little of another language is always a good thing, not being able to fully express yourself in a foreign land may well limit the scope of opportunities open to you, especially for anyone looking to move into similar paid work as a future career. From Land’s End to John o’Groats, though the accent changes, your ability to use your own mother tongue could see you involved in all sorts of things which will definitely boost your CV.

It has to be said that there are just as many benefits to be had from placements overseas; it’s just that they are, inevitably, different ones. The final decision comes down to a matter of personal choice and there is always the option of taking say half the year as a stay-at-home, and the rest abroad, to get the best of both worlds, if you prefer.

One thing’s for sure; the growing numbers of young people looking at stay-at-home gap years seems to be living proof of those two old sayings about thinking globally, but acting locally – and charity beginning at home!