Volunteer FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

What sort of people go to Sunseed? All sorts! And all ages – from babies to our so-far oldest visitor at the grand age of 87. Children are welcome, with a supervising adult (volunteers between the ages of 16 to 18 should provide consent from a parent or guardian if volunteering without them). Everyone is linked by a common interest in the environment and sustainable living, but beyond that, there’s a huge range of interests and characters. One of the best parts of Sunseed for many people is the opportunity to get to know people you may otherwise not have met.

How long do people usually stay for? Some people stay for two weeks; others for 6 months or more. Many would say that the longer you stay, the more you get out of the project. We recommend that people stay for at least two weeks – it can be difficult to understand everything that’s happening in less time.

What goes on outside of work hours? It all depends on the energy of the group of people currently at Sunseed and their interests. It’s a friendly community – there are always people to talk to and frequent fiestas, but plenty of space for solitude, too. There are often evening activities. Some nights we have a ´Green Speak´ event covering an environmental hot topic. Sessions in the past have included biofuel, genetically modified agriculture and sustainable travel. Other evening activities have included the weekly jamming night at the Agave school down the road, circus workshops and of course the solar powered cinema. We live in a beautiful place for walking, bird watching, sunbathing, etc. There´s also the Rio de Aguas river and pools to swim in (together with the terrapins); and excellent caving and climbing nearby. We have a big selection of technical and non-technical books and games such as playing cards, chess, etc. There are lots of good bars in our nearest town, Sorbas (7km away) for beers and tapas, as well as the excellent visitors’ centre. There is no bus into town, but it’s a lovely walk (about 1 ½ hours) or cycle (25 minutes). There are sometimes people driving to and from town who will be happy to give you a lift for a petrol contribution.

As a long-term volunteer do I have to do my own project? No! If doing your own project doesn’t appeal you can just work with the departmental co-ordinator on whatever projects are ongoing at the time. Rather than a project some volunteers take responsibility for an area of the gardens or a repair job on one of our houses. If you´d like to plan a project before you arrive please get in touch with us stating what you think you´d like to do and we´ll put you in touch with the appropriate member of staff.

How is the work decided? Everyday morning after breakfast, jobs are allocated for the day. Volunteers can focus on one department or chop and change – we try and find a balance between what needs doing, and what visitors want to do. For those involved in mucky work we have a free store of old clothes.

What kind of jobs are people given?

We have a rota for cooking and cleaning duties; everybody is asked to choose around two rota duties a week. In addition to this, examples of typical jobs across the departments are:

  • * Preserving products from the Sunseed gardens, and wild products, in a variety of ways, including in the solar dryer and on the parabolic dish solar cooker
  • * Experimenting with solar cookers – solar cooking a cake, for example, when it’s your turn to cook * Creative artwork such as making lampshades or sign writing
  • * Irrigation line clearing
  • * Maintenance of water supply
  • * Sowing and transplanting seedlings
  • * Turning compost heaps
  • * Assistance on specific projects e.g. roof repairs
  • * Work in tree nursery and tree maintenance
  • * Work on dryland terrace renovation, for example helping with dry stone walling
  • * Working with caña (bamboo), cob, building structures, etc…
  • * Maintenance of our 4 houses which could include repairing cracks to walls, decorating rooms, experimenting with ecological products – roofs, straw bale houses
  • * Soil care and maintenance including the use of compost, animal and green manure, hoeing and weeding
  • * Writing an article, or translating material into other languages
  • *Researching and, if you’d like to, presenting a ‘Green speak’ session. In the past these have included discussions about biofuels, genetically modified food, population control, sustainable travel, sustainable childcare and micro hydro. Is there an environmental issue that you think everyone should know more about?

Do I have to arrive on a particular day of the week? Arrival days are Mondays and Tuesdays, when we give guided tours and an induction to community life and the Sunseed project. If you can’t avoid arriving at another time you’ll be welcome anyway, but you might have to find your own way round the valley and the Sunseed project!

How basic is life at Sunseed? What do I need to bring with me? We’ll send you full details of what you need to bring; communications at Sunseed and with our local town, etc, when we receive your Booking form. One important thing to realise is that the living and accommodation here are simple. It’s a bit like indoor camping. We are off grid, so internet access, hot water and electricity in general is limited. Many rooms are not heated in the winter.

What is a typical working day for a Volunteer? Everyone is woken up and starts work at the same time (about 7:45 am for an 8:30 am start in the winter, and at 6:45 for a 7.30am start in the summer.) Everyone does five hours of work, with a mid-morning break. Lunch is at 1.30pm, and after that, those not completing projects  have the rest of the day to do anything they like. Those carrying out projects have 3 hours in the afternoons to get these done. Dinner is usually at 9pm in summer and 7pm in winter. Household rota duties are shared by everyone at the project – usually two each week and include cooking, cleaning and washing-up. It’s great, unless you choose to, you only have to wash up once a week! Living and working in the same space as part of a community of people does mean that there’s no neat end to the working day. Sometimes we´ll be chopping firewood in the evening, or collect water on the weekend, etc. A staff member is on duty each weekend. See also A day at Sunseed.

Why is Sunseed different to a WOOFing farm? Firstly, Sunseed does not farm to generate income. Sunseed is an educational charity. The rates for staying at Sunseed cover accommodation, food and project costs. In Sunseed volunteers can chose the area they would like to work at in the mornings. Long-term volunteers choose a project that interests them from the project pack, or devise their own with consultation with staff. The staff support and mentor volunteers. Every department has a budget that is available for its projects. This can be spent on books, equipment, materials etc. Volunteers are encouraged to be ambitious and innovative, experiment and take risks. Experimentation and innovation is the essence of Sunseed. Pushing projects forward is one of Sunseed’s main objectives. As long as the methods are being thoroughly documented and assessed, we believe that learning comes from both failure and success. Sunseed also offers workshops and courses (sometimes residential courses) run by the staff for visitors as well as volunteers, usually in the Spring and Autumn.

What are the eating arrangements? We have a vegetarian/vegan diet, with eggs usually only once a week. Please also note that we sometimes aren’t able to buy eggs and we don’t provide milk for drinks etc. We ask that fish and meat are not brought on to the project. Most of our food is organic (the food from our gardens and some of the bought food), but not all. All staff and volunteers eat together. There is a rota for cooking – preparing a meal for 15 or 30 people is a new experience for many volunteers, but most people enjoy it. Help is always on hand when needed.

What’s the accommodation like and how is it organised?  The accommodation is basic, if you imagine indoor camping that will give you some idea of how we live. In the winter it can be cold and not all the rooms are heated. The nature of the local habitat (semi-arid) means that there is a lot of dust around and it can be difficult to stay clean. If you prefer to stay very clean and in northern European style comfort you might prefer to chose a different project. Accommodation, and all communal living spaces, are basic, and we work hard to keep them clean in our dusty village.

Staff have their own rooms. Depending on the number of volunteers we have, other rooms are shared – most between 2 or 3 beds, and a couple with up to 6 beds. Our dorms are mixed gender; if you require same gender accommodation, please make this clear when you are booking your stay here. If you want a room on your own, or a double for a couple, we’ll try and arrange it if you ask well in advance, but it can’t be guaranteed.

What are the sanitary arrangements? We have urinals and shower block by the main house, and a compost toilet in the gardens. The compost toilets in the gardens require squatting – no toilet seat or basin, but have lovely views. We use river water for washing (brought to the houses by our water-powered ram pump), some of which is solar heated, you should be aware that in winter hot shower water is often limited and in bad weather the water can sometimes be quite chilly!

Are there many opportunities to speak Spanish? Due to the international nature of Sunseed the operating language of the project is English. But several coordinators are Spanish and those wishing to practice Spanish can join the weekly Spanish lesson and also will find friendly neighbours in the village to chat to. Also you are welcome to help with the weekly shopping trips – very few of those living in the centre of Sorbas speak English.

How do I get to the project? You will be sent some travel information when we’ve received your booking form. Sorbas is one hour by bus from Almeria where there are train and bus stations and an airport. We encourage overland travel.

Do I have to pay? Yes, Sunseed operates as a non-profit organisation and we rely on the contributions and donations of volunteers and friends to fund the project. We run a very low cost project, with assistants volunteering freely, and longer-term co-ordinator-staff being expected to subsist on a weekly allowance of 45 Euros.

What if I want to work in one particular department? We will be very happy to put you in touch with the appropriate coordinator if you would like to discuss details before you come. If you’re a long-term volunteer you can also visit our project pack, which has a list of different projects we are offering at the moment in each of the departments.

If I wanted to become a long-term volunteer after 1 or 2 weeks of being a short-term volunteer, how would I do that? If this involves extending the length of your stay, as long as there is space available this shouldn’t be a problem. If you are interested in doing this you would need to talk over the practicalities with the Administrator co-ordinator and the co-ordinator of the department in which you wish to work.

Is it more group- and teamwork, or is it more individual? It depends on the number of visitors, time of year and the work being done. Volunteers often work in small groups, and usually work alongside the co-ordinator of the department they’re working in. Department coordinators always supervise work.

Any other questions? Please contact us.