Why you really should consider taking a gap year in Britain

There is a host of online wildlife monitoring projects open to volunteers
There is a host of online wildlife monitoring projects open to volunteers Credit: getty

Because let’s face it, a gap year abroad in the midst of a pandemic isn’t particularly advisable. But while coronavirus has rained on the campfires of thousands of would-be backpackers, all is not lost.  

True, the rite of passage has narrowed, but those eager to take time out before entering employment or higher education can embark on a number of CV-enhancing programmes on home soil and online, which have the added benefit of being cheaper than schlepping halfway around the world. 

From learning to be a deckhand to helping vulnerable people through the pandemic, here are some of the things gappers can do to advance themselves and society while the world waits to reopen:

1. Get a TEFL 

Coronavirus might have suspended most travel for the foreseeable future, but when the world opens up again you may just find it opens that little bit wider if you have a TEFL (teach English as a foreign language) qualification under your belt. With our native language still sought after in many parts of the world, such a certificate could lead to teaching opportunities abroad when gap year 2.0 eventually rolls around. TEFL courses can be completed online and are open to young people aged 16 and above, although bear in mind many countries will only hire English teachers who are 18 or older.  

2. Help vulnerable people through Covid 

There’s often a serious side to gap years and it doesn’t get much more serious than helping vulnerable people through a pandemic. Cue Volunteering Matters, which places caring young adults with individuals who require assistance, such as elderly folk or people with disabilities – work that has added significance with the arrival of Covid. Such placements aren’t for the faint-hearted, but the work can be rewarding and will help participants develop employer-friendly attributes such as communications skills and patience. Training takes place online until further notice.  

3. Go WWOOFing

It sounds like a dog rehoming charity, but WWOOF UK (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms UK) is actually dedicated to teaching people about low-impact lifestyles through hands-on agricultural experiences. The charity has a database of organic farms, gardens and smallholdings in the UK and abroad, which provide food, accommodation and training to volunteers in exchange for elbow grease. Some placements may be affected by local lockdowns, but many aren’t. The duration of each placement is agreed between the host and volunteer.

Have a hands-on agricultural experience Credit: getty

4. Become a citizen scientist

On our increasingly connected planet, conducting conservation work often means monitoring screens rather than trekking through the rainforest. And you don’t have to be an expert to get involved: there is a host of online wildlife monitoring projects open to volunteers – or citizen scientists, as they are known – through Zooniverse, a platform that allows anyone to participate in genuine scientific research; from monkey monitoring in Central Africa to penguin counting in Antarctica – and all by observing drone footage or other digital records. In the absence of hands-on volunteering opportunities, this is currently the closest you are likely to get to the frontline of conservation. 

5. Learn to become a deckhand 

UKSA trains young people to become skippers, deckhands and watersports instructors, offering a route to future employment on the high seas. Like a ship in stormy weather, the Isle of Wight-based educational charity has being navigating the government guidelines around coronavirus, and at the time of publication was still delivering many courses using a combination of remote learning and socially-distanced on-site training. One of the UKSA’s most popular programmes, the 11-week watersports instructor course, is still running; prices start from £5,750, which includes food and private accommodation. Bursaries are available for those who require financial assistance. 

Case study: Will Draper 

“After my A-levels I went to UKSA on the Isle of Wight and did the watersports instructor course. After graduating I did two seasons with them before applying for a job in the Maldives at a luxury resort, which I got. 

“Once a week I would take celebrities out on jet skis; from pop stars and television personalities to footballers such as Luis Suarez. I would wake up on the beach and spend the day windsurfing, kitesurfing, diving with whale sharks and jet skiing to abandoned islands. Then I’d do it all again the following day. It was the most amazing experience I have ever had – and it all came through UKSA. 

“I’m now doing similar work in Newquay for a company called Park Leisure. The skills I learned from my gap year have got me into permanent employment which has allowed me to buy myself an apartment. It’s been life-changing.”