I’m inviting strangers to live with me so they can help with my DIY
Decorating and DIY have become my life. I wake up and drink my morning coffee while painting kitchen cupboards pink. I fall asleep reading plastering tips. Now I can’t even go for a walk past a field of sheep without wondering where they sit on the Dulux colour chart. I stay up late, hunting through Facebook Marketplace like a woman possessed. “Didn’t you used to be a writer?”, Martin cattily says.
Now I cannot stop decorating even if I wanted to because everywhere in the house is half-finished chaos screaming at me to be completed. My list of jobs to do growing by the day. In the bathroom, the shower waits to be screwed back on the wall; in my bedroom, I’ve pulled up the carpet. In the kitchen, where I’ve done the worst damage, cupboards are half-painted, walls half-tiled and bare plaster exposed on the wall in a style an interior designer might optimistically call “distressed”. Juxtaposed with the pink paint and the bunting hanging from the ceilings the house has a worrying air of Cath-Kidston-having-a-breakdown chic.
Then one day a friend visiting the house, finding it and me in this unholy mess, offers a suggestion. Why don’t I try Workaway: a website where you sign up to host travellers in your home in return for them working for you? It sounds like the answer to my prayers.
The Workaway website operates similarly to Airbnb (although it is less Egyptian cotton sheets and more blood, sweat and tears). Hosts post opportunities to work in their homes and travellers, looking for free accommodation, reach out.
Workaway hosts span the world. There are opportunities to stay in a guesthouse in Vietnam, where guests contribute to running the place in return for a room right on the Dalat lake. There is a host in Costa Rica, living off-grid in an isolated jungle home, looking for guests who can help look after their daughter. There are farm-stays in remote parts of Scotland and eco-communities in Wales, where hosts offer yurts and nightly vegan feasts. I wonder – given all these incredible opportunities – whether anyone will want to stay in at a chaotic cottage in Somerset with a host who can’t cook.
It feels exciting writing my Workaway ad, filled with Sliding Doors possibilities. The chance to meet new, random people is something I miss about London. In the city, I loved that chance encounter you could have while just getting the Tube. In a day you might meet a slick city banker, a taxi driver, a new immigrant, a High Court judge or Lindsay Lohan’s assistant, when you’d just popped out to buy milk.
In the countryside, much as I love reconnecting with old friends, I miss those random, eclectic social connections. Now Workaway seems an opportunity – not just to get the house sorted – but welcome the world into my home without even travelling. The short-stay set up suits me especially well because, as much as I love meeting new people, I also love them going away again.
I post a listing for my cottage asking for people who can help with practical work, like wallpapering, painting or gardening. Then, feeling ambitious, I add that it would be great to also find someone who could help me build a tree house. It is a little like writing a profile on Tinder, but on Workaway I feel more optimistic about the potential. Also the pressure is less. Now it’s only my cottage on show rather than myself.
I press “post” on my ad and wait impatiently for 48 hours while the website confirms my credentials and sets my listing to “live”. Then I wait. It’s surprising how quickly messages arrive. After barely a week of signing up to the site, I’ve got would-be Workaways queuing up. There is a student in the Netherlands who wants to come to stay so she can improve her English; in return, she offers to help in the garden with planting and weeding.
A young man from Sri Lanka emails to say he’s looking for a place to stay when he returns to the UK for his graduation. He also offers to help in the garden, telling me how at home he grows eggplants, chilli and lady’s fingers. He promises to make me Sri Lankan milky “chaya” tea and his local dishes.
I hear from a young Brazilian man travelling across Europe, a Spanish writer taking a pit-stop in Bristol, a builder from Greece who is keen to know more about my treehouse project.
A guy in his 30s reaches out to say he’s driving from Devon to Wales and he could pop in and see how we get on. He stops for a coffee and, although my place isn’t right for him (he’s hoping to end up somewhere more remote) we chat for several hours, as he tells me about his experiences and offers advice. It seems not all his Workaway stops have been that great – with some hosts working their “guests” as hard as if they were paid staff. He tells me about one project he worked at where the Workaways were helping to build a whole new house. And another, helping out at remote holiday lets, where the Workaways did everything to run the place. He advises me it would be most sensible to rent out my caravan first, rather than having anyone living in my cottage.
A friend who already regularly hosts on Workaway tells me the best way to find suitable “guests” is to approach people whose profiles on the platform seem to fit in well with your needs. Trying this approach is how I find T, a well-travelled woman in her 50s who feels right. And so, somewhat nervous and somewhat excited, I start getting the caravan ready for her to arrive.
This week I’ve been obsessed with…
- My favourite opera, Verdi’s La Traviata, which is being broadcast live from Covent Garden to over 800 cinemas in 18 countries around the world on April 13 (roh.org.uk/cinemas)
- The 15th anniversary of Laugharne Weekend, the festival in Dylan Thomas’s former home area in Wales on March 25-27, where guests include Charlie Higson, Irvine Welsh and Robin Ince (thelaugharne weekend.com)
- Nextdoor, the neighbourhood app that’s the best source of local recipes, gossip and plumbing advice