Mike, 62, has returned from a volunteering project at Villaggio Carovana, on the Italian island of Sardinia, and says that it was the most enjoyable and worthwhile ten days of his life. Read his blog.

The work camp, “Summer in the Villaggio,” aimed to fulfil cooperative principles by providing people with physical or mental disadvantages the opportunity to have holidays.

Villaggio Carovana is situated near the town of Castiadas in Sardinia, about 6km inland. The area was once a penal colony which only closed in 1956. Now it is sparsely populated, circled by mountains and fringed by beaches of white sand and crystal clear water. No high rise hotels or marinas for millionaires’ yachts here!

Not a bad place to be a prisoner, you might think. But the temperature has been in the 40s – we’ve been working in it, but we got to wear hats and are supplied with plenty of water. After two or three hours there is a break for lunch, and at this time of year (July), there is usually a siesta; no one can work safely in this blistering heat.

As the temperature dies down, we do another two or three hours and then get ready for dinner. There are six of us volunteers and a local co-ordinator: Miren from the Basque Country, Carmen from Madrid, and Miriam from Barcelona. The two Italian representatives are Dylan from Bergamo and Elisa from Turin; the co-ordinator is Elena from Cagliari.

Villaggio Carovana is a social cooperative that aims to organise holidays for people with physical or mental disadvantages. Guests are accommodated in some of the bungalows situated around the main building which houses the kitchen, office, and communal area. Activities such as eating, relaxing and socialising are carried out in this common area.

Outside the main building is a terrace where we sit at a long table – sometimes 25 of us or more – and eat, drink wine, talk, laugh, and eat some more, just like an extended Italian family.

The powerhouse behind is Anna Franka and Claudia – helped by various children, members of their family and friends. At lunch and in the evening they cook huge delicious meals for us and the guests.

Villaggio Carovana has several small guest houses scattered about the grounds. Anyone can book and come to stay for a night or a week or whatever they like. Then there are the special guests – people who by virtue of their condition, often Asperger’s, also stay here. As well as the day to day tasks, such as helping in the kitchen, weeding the garden, repairing the plasterwork, it is important to work with these special guests.

One of our tasks has been to accompany them to the beach, a wonderful stretch of white sand and clear water. They go twice a day, 10 am to 12 noon, and 5 to 7pm; the sea is wonderful therapy for anyone. Two of us volunteers have to accompany them, usually with Anna Franka or Claudia, and quite often with some of their children.

However, with the peak in the hot weather, Gabriele, Davide, Francesco, and, for a while, Murano, often decided that it was too hot for the beach. So, instead we took the opportunity to paint a mural of their design (pictured above).

We were accommodated in tents and a caravan – basic, but adequate for our needs. It was so hot that I dragged my mattress outside on the first night and then slept in the open. It was wonderful to open your eyes to the sound of sheep bells as they were moved to fresh grazing in the morning. Once I awoke to find myself being observed by a curious pine marten; it ran off before I could get my camera!

All in all, it’s been an amazing experience and I’ve met some wonderful people. I’ve worked hard and also had some great experiences. Oh, and if you think that you may be too old for this sort of thing, I’ll be 62 in a few weeks’ time. Yes, you have to be fairly fit; I cycle and go to the gym on a regular basis, and don’t expect luxury – this isn’t a holiday. But go with an open mind and heart, take a gift (I took a kilo of Cheshire Cheese and gave a PowerPoint presentation about the canals of Britain), and you might just have the most incredible experience of your life.

Mike, Italy, July 2015