In February 2020, a group of four well established Eco Communities from Ireland, Sweden, Denmark and Germany embarked upon a small-scale, intensive partnership project called Volunteering Solidarity and Sustainability (within eco communities).
The main aim was to share our experiences with running ESC and other Volunteering programmes for young people within our unique communities and to compare and contrast approaches and creative ideas within our diverse sustainable projects.
All of our communities have run programmes for many years and so have decades of experience and insight to share.
As well as getting to know each other’s projects and forging useful links, we hoped to share practical resources such as: training days, creative games, information packs, financial models and other useful materials and to create lasting connections that could be useful for all our ESC Volunteers.
The resulting best practices we gathered and collated from this 2 year project are now available for you to view on the Website we have created especially for disseminating the ideas and guidance gathered in the project, completed this year:
The above contains guidelines and advice for those considering setting up a Volunteering programme for their project:
- how to set up a Volunteering project
- how to apply for ESC Volunteers
- how to structure the programme and what key aspects to include
For those who are already up and running, there is much useful guidance as well as many creative and fun ideas to implement with your Volunteers, to enrich their experience and help them gain skills, learning and insight. The learning is focused on each of our eco-communities’ unique approaches to:
- sustainability, ecology and biodiversity
- creating fairer living conditions and sustainable livelihoods
- creating and living within supportive and conscious communities
- providing alternative models to the mainstream capitalist approach
- transitioning to lower carbon living
- developing climate education and awareness.
Young people volunteering in such rich environments can gain powerful insights on all the above during their stay, however short or long term.
The four communities coming together for the course of this particular project were: Cloughjordan Community Supported (CSA) Farm from rural Ireland, based in Cloughjordan Ecovillage; Ananda Gaorii Ashram and eco-farm from Denmark; Sieben Linden Ecovillage, an off grid eco-community in rural Germany; and finally Angsbacka, an eco community in the south of Sweden famous for its tantric mind and body festivals which has been consciously introducing a greater focus on sustainability and climate aware practices within its programme over the last few years.
As we outlined above, the point of our intentional communities gathering together and visiting each other’s projects was to seek inspiration from our differences as well as similarities – to compare how differing methods influence and aid our work and glean some useful alternative approaches to bring back for implementation in our own communities.
Also, crucially, to enhance solidarity between our projects, gain inspiration for the future and create opportunities for ongoing collaborations.
The ultimate aim was to share our own best practices with other communities embarking upon Volunteering programmes and to encourage fledgling communities and programmes in their work. The presence at some of the meetings of those who had either directly gone through the Volunteering process or worked closely with Volunteers as Work Leaders and Coordinators in each of the Projects, added valuable insights to this process.
The broader hope was that improving our Volunteering practices would also enhance our own work in general – that we might make more of an impact upon our wider communities by bringing possible new, innovative approaches to the bigger themes we wrestle with on a daily basis within our intentional communities:
- creating and maintaining biodiversity in our local environment
- feeding ourselves via sustainable growing and production
- creating sustainable local livelihoods and inclusive, diverse and supportive neighbourhoods
- forging resilient local economies
- creating solidarity networks amongst community groups and local social enterprises
- spreading climate awareness and education
- demonstrating lower carbon living and sustainable practices.
All this work can be enhanced, supported and driven forward by the enthusiasm, energy and ideas of the young people who volunteer among us.
Outcomes of this Project:
Our organisations varied in terms of how much we had developed our Volunteers’ personal development or personal projects and how successful we had been in forging social links and connections between the Volunteers and our wider communities.
We had differing approaches to:
- volunteer interviews
- information provision
- induction days and training
- organising the Volunteers’ work
- arrangement of finances
- planning for different stages of the Volunteer experience
- conducting evaluations
- addressing problems.
We have spread the findings to our networks and local and national and international groups as far as possible, including our own community members- via websites, lectures and festival events: for example, we had a stall at the Elements of Change Festival here in Cloughjordan in June – a festival focusing on sustainability and creating new approaches to work, living, creating local economic resilience and combating climate change with creativity- providing information on Volunteering in Eco Communities and in Cloughjordan in particular.
This partnership of four eco-communities intends to continue to collaborate on future projects and to keep our strong connections going, as we are all too aware that our communities increasingly need to forge solid, supportive national and international networks of our hard won values and approaches, in order to face the huge challenges of an ever more uncertain future.
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