France property: British expat shares how she used volunteers to renovate gîte for free

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Enasha de Zoysa, 51, lives in the rural countryside of southwestern France where she has two rustic French barn conversion gîtes which she renovated herself. The British expat, who was born in Sri Lanka and brought up in both London and Maidstone, Kent, began her journey in France over 10 years ago. Initially, Enasha began renovating the barn with her former partner and the father of her son, however, after they split up, she took on the renovation single-handedly.

The single mum to 11-year-old Xavier realised she couldn’t do the work alone, and with money running low, she decided to seek out volunteers to help her out with the complex renovation.

The property itself includes five acres of land and one large building which has been split up into two gîtes and a house.

The large building and the surrounding land required both manual labour and maintenance which are jobs that can be costly.

Enasha was inspired to seek out the help of volunteers after watching an episode of Channel 4’s Grand Designs.

She said: “I was watching this episode of Grand Designs and I remember Kevin McCloud asking the owner of one of the homes who all these people were helping him.

“And he said they’re volunteers and they want to learn about eco-building.

“They basically brought their own tents and were sleeping in the woods.

“I thought, ‘this could be really helpful’.”

Enasha and her ex-partner got their first volunteer in 2015.

After they split up, Enasha used volunteers to help her finish the renovation of her barn.

She continued: “I’ve got one long barn that had a log store and a bread oven attached to it and our house that was 90 percent completed.

“But I had to finish the gîtes, but the shells were there.


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“I had enough money to pay for electricians and plumbers but there’s a lot of stone work and mixing cement and painting and all sorts of things.

“I’ve got five acres of land as well so cutting grass and maintaining the garden was just too much for me by myself.

“Xavier was only around six years old then too.”

Enasha has used volunteers for six years to help her through every aspect of her project.

But how did she manage to find the volunteers? Enasha said she went online.

She said: “There’s a site called Workaway. I didn’t know where to look initially so I was just Googling.

“It began with something called HelpX which was specifically for farms and to help with farm work.

“Then the site I found was Workaway. Basically, if you’re a host you put your profile up and then you can register for free.”

Workaway is a platform that allows members to arrange home stays and cultural exchange.

Volunteers on the site are expected to contribute to a pre-agreed amount of time per day in exchange for lodging or food that is provided by their host.

“I have pictures of my house on there and you just say what your project is and what you need help with,” Enasha added.

Enasha said she has hosted a plethora of individuals including skilled workers and novices.

She continued: “I get some really skilled people. You get a mixture.

“You get youngsters who are taking a gap year or have just left university.

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“Or older people who are taking a career break or have skills or maybe they want to move to France and get a feel for it.”

Enasha said she’s hosted people from all over including South America, Japan and Germany.

Enasha’s beautiful gîte took her 10 years to completely renovate.

The property is a haven for city dwellers looking to escape the bustle of the city for fresh air and lush landscapes.

Located just 10 minutes from Sarlat-la-Canéda, the property is a country escape located close to local amenities.

Enasha will be appearing on Channel 5’s new series Allo! Allo! Brits in France.

The new series will follow the lives of British expats who have decided to move to France.

One episode of the programme will follow Enasha on her dating journey from the French countryside to Paris.

If you would like to stay in Enasha’s gîte, Gîte Les Fontanelles, check out her site here.

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