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Making preparations for the annual Canterbury Pilgrimage

News St Martin – Talking Points

Friday 3 May 2013

On Friday 24 May, over a hundred walkers and volunteers will set out from the steps of St Martin-in-the-Fields, walk out of London and follow the Pilgrim’s Way to Canterbury Cathedral. Their goal is grave of the Revd Dick Sheppard, vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields during World War I and inspiration behind our continued work with homeless and vulnerable people. Taking a total of four days, the annual pilgrimage is organised by The Connection at St Martin-in-the-Fields and raises money for their essential work supporting London’s homeless people.

Please note this article refers to the 2013 pilgrimage. The 2014 pilgrimage begins on Friday 23 May.

Four pilgrims walk past a field of flowering poppies

By the time the pilgrims set off, the pilgrimage will have been almost a year in planning. In fact, preparations for this year’s pilgrimage began only two weeks after the previous one ended, when all the volunteers were called together for a debriefing to discuss what went well, and what could be done better. The summer is then spent counting donations and processing Gift Aid: last year’s pilgrimage raised a vital £24,000 to support The Connection’s services.

As May approaches, work on the pilgrimage begins to intensify. Volunteer recruitment began in January: any gaps must be filled before the start. A skilled team of podiatrists and other medical staff are drawn up to keep weary pilgrims on their feet, as are a (hugely popular) team of caters. The registration team, led by Sarah Crompton, will sign people in on day one, and check pilgrims off a list at regular meeting points to ensure everyone stays together. Keeping the pilgrims on route will be eight or nine group leaders: seasoned walkers who have undertaken the pilgrimage several times themselves, and will keep an eye on their group’s welfare.Keith Lanewill walk the route before the pilgrimage sets off, checking and double checking that pathways are open, rights of way haven’t changed and that all the routes are still traversable. Then, food and drink is ordered, including £200 of breakfast supplies, £150 of vegetables, 240 bottles of water, and over 2,000 tea bags. All of this and more will be loaded onto a fleet of vehicles the largest of which is generously provided by Millmoll Ltd.

All the while, the 100 or so pilgrims have been breaking in their walking boots, building up the strength in their legs getting ready for the hike, and collecting the important sponsors who are vitally important to the success of the pilgrimage. So who are the pilgrims? 10% of the places are reserved for current clients of The Connection, and many more are taken up by former clients. Seasoned walkers sign up, drawn by the challenge of a 74 mile hike across some of the south’s most spectacular countryside. The rest of the places are taken up by friends, supporters and staff of both The Connection and the church, eager to support the centre’s work with homeless people. On route, they’ll be met with a much loved band of supporters who live at various points along the way. The Friday evening meal is cooked by volunteers from Swanley, Marigold Happé provides a Ploughman’s lunch on Saturday, and a colourful array of cupcakes prepared by St Mary’s Chartham bolster spirits as pilgrims set out on the final four mile stretch to Canterbury.

Pilgrims, volunteers, staff and supporters together undertake a journey which unifies a diverse range of people into one unforgettable experience, and which draws people back year after year after year.

This year’s Pilgrimage takes place between Friday 24 – Monday 27 May. If you think you would like to join, places are still available for a short time: please contact Lesley Cannon to find out more. The organisers would still appreciate the support of one more registered podiatrist – again, please contact Lesley if this is something you are interested in.