Thank you Trudi Warner, WWOOF UK director and WWOOFer, for sharing your impressions and appreciation of this event.
Old Chapel Farm in Powys was a memorable venue for the Members’ weekend and AGM in September. A variety of structures provided picturesque and atmospheric accommodation for a weekend of contrasts and camaraderie. Over 60 hosts, WWOOFers, directors and staff members took part.
The brilliant daytime sunshine gave way to bitterly cold, starlit nights, with morning mists lifting to reveal the natural beauty of the site and the surrounding hills. It was hard to go indoors for meetings on such warm and mellow autumn days.
We were greeted on arrival by friendly dogs, and made our way through a stone circle to a reused, refitted red bus offering tea and coffee making facilities. This was adjacent to a hobbit house, various yurts, and outside shelters, (needed as protection against the sun!), and the old chapel itself, complete with gravestones, furnished with straw bales to create a congenial meeting space.
The timber framed house, characteristic of the area, and dating from the 1650s, had been discovered underneath pebble dashing, and restored by the family, who moved to the farm about 15 years ago. The galleried barn was also rebuilt and thatched with reeds cut from Cardigan Bay. The gardens have been attractively landscaped with features reflecting the archaeological interests of the owner.
Old Chapel Farm permanently has a group of WWOOFers living and working there, and sharing the unusual experience of recreating a Neolithic settlement in the valley, using on-site materials to create energy efficient homes, thatched with heather; using the past as inspiration for the future. To support this project, there are 35 varieties of basket willow being grown and extensive woodland being coppiced. They are also attempting to domesticate wild Mouflon sheep, originally brought from the Middle East. These small brown creatures resemble deer, jump six feet from standing, and were very unsure about the influx of curious visitors. The members’ weekend was an exciting opportunity to hear about this ambitious project, which is still developing.
Following lunch on Saturday after an inspiring message from Sue Coppard and a presentation to Redfield to thank them for hosting the WWOOF office for seven years, the AGM business was conducted swiftly and efficiently, allowing time for discussion of issues of concern. These included ideas for reducing the carbon footprint of WWOOFers and the perennial theme of insurance, which is recurring. This is made more urgent due to the possibility of including insurance in a membership package, under a deal negotiated by FoWO and Lloyds. Some hosts shared personal experiences of WWOOFers with medical issues whose costs were not adequately covered and mentioned new NHS charges which may apply. There are also hosts doing risk assessments to ensure their insurance is valid. It was decided to survey the membership before implementing this because of the increase in the membership cost this would entail. Some hosts spoke positively about using airbnb and offering Nearly Wild camping to generate additional income, and also to enable holiday visitors to connect with the natural world, and possibly to be introduced to the concept of WWOOFing....?!!.
After tea and excellent cake, we toured the site and proceeded to a workshop led by our keynote speakers, Frank from the Landworkers Alliance and Laura from Groundspring, involving some work in small groups to think about ways of helping young aspiring farmers to gain access to land. People had just enough time to light the stoves in the yurts before supper, and the evening ceilidh, which included cider made locally by a couple who met as WWOOFers, and who were also amongst the musicians.
Sunday began mistily but when the mist cleared some of us climbed the hill for a magnificent 360 degree view. Others attended workshops on LLOOFing and running small veg-box schemes. Hanging out and networking also seemed important and there was a relaxed and playful atmosphere with humans and animals enjoying what one member described as a 'WWOOFing wonderland'.
We are very grateful to Fran and Kevin and their family, who share a range of skills which they employed to make the weekend such a success. They dispensed hot water bottles, home made hedgerow wine, and copious quantities of imaginative and delicious food, and welcomed us into their lounge to share the stove when the temperature fell in the evening. Old Chapel Farm is not a venue, so it was a new challenge for the team and family to cater for such large numbers on the site, and they had obviously put a great deal of thought, care, creativity, and hard work, into the planning and preparation. Thanks to them, and to Holly, WWOOF UK’s organisational administrator, for organising this event, which ended too soon, but will remain in our memories.
photos: Taryn Field and Chris Schmidt-Reid—thank you so much!
Here is the text of Sue Coppard’s message to us: Dear WWOOF – all of you who belong to, run, and support WWOOF – I’m so sorry I'm not free to be with you. In fact I'm not driving at the moment as I have just had a cataract operation, with another to follow in due course (all going well it seems). Anyway, this is to wish you an extremely successful and enjoyable weekend, with loads of constructive Thinking. I've been reading the numerous papers needed for keeping WWOOF on the rails these days and it is awe inspiring to see how WWOOF has burgeoned in so many directions and how complex it is now: so far from the original simple little contact list! I'm full of admiration for everybody who runs WWOOF these days. Well done! Thank you so much for everything you do.
Indeed WWOOF is immensely blessed with the superior quality of its directors, organisers and staff: intelligent, IT-savvy, lateral thinking and dedicated... (enough to make the corporate world groan with envy!) – and this is because the WWOOF Cause is inspiring and attracts excellent people. Your immense amount of hard work really is worth it as WWOOF transforms and enhances so many lives, offering access to the countryside and contact with nature, knowledge of organic food production, an ethical approach to living and caring for the planet, experience of other cultures, and super people. WWOOF is a powerful force for good in the world, making many people very happy. Belonging to WWOOF is like being a member of a vast, worldwide family. Let's all keep spreading the word so that more and more people benefit from WWOOF.