The British Pilgrimage Trust CIO (The BPT) promotes pilgrimage in Britain by helping to develop and publicise new and old paths as well as the practice of pilgrimage itself by encouraging people to say ‘bring your own beliefs‘.
Our mission is to help build routes, infrastructure and support for pilgrimage all around Britain; create a community to support the work of the BPT and other organisations across the country by supporting them in return; communicate to create understanding, awareness and involvement; and thereby make the practice of pilgrimage popular, with strong participation across Britain.
BPT’s 2022 was the year we started to ask more seriously what we are here to do long-term. As a team we have probed how the BPT can add most value to the wonderful pilgrimage work which is now regularly springing up ‘grass-roots-style’ in widely-distributed localities across Britain. The upshot is that we need to be the best platform to promote this work, and maintain trust as the go-to place to find out about pilgrimage in Britain, in all its forms.
We have focused in recent years on a hybrid model of being a general promoter of pilgrim routes all over Britain, whilst also establishing specific local routes such as the Old Way from Southampton to Canterbury, and the Wexford-Pembrokeshire Pilgrim Way. We will still continue to facilitate the creation of new routes but may modify how we do this moving forward, by shifting focus towards improving our overall digital presence (e.g. upgrading our website), in order that we might prioritise our general promotional role.
2022’s developments have reflected this new thinking:
– We are starting to plan how we might build regional teams of active pilgrimage promoters, affiliated with the BPT to build pilgrimage participation in their region.
– We also want more local groups and societies to pop up around Britain that make it easier for groups of strangers to make pilgrimage together in their local area, akin to what the Ramblers already have, but focused on pilgrimage rather than general hiking.
– We continued to develop a volunteer training programme for those who want to lead guided pilgrimage events around Britain. This is for guides ‘under our banner’ who learn our methods of leading these events, whilst allowing for freedom of each guide’s individual expression. In 2022, several guides actually led successful pilgrimages as part of our events schedule.
– From a mass participation perspective, there is of course the lack of low-cost walking accommodation across Britain that will hold many back from setting out on a path. We are starting to plug that gap with Britain’s Sanctuary Network and partnerships with Independent Hostels and Youth Hostel Association, but there is still much work to be done.
– We also pledged in November to make resources available for free to encourage as many people as possible to make pilgrimage, as that is our main goal moving forward. To this end, we removed the paid subscription barrier to the Old Way Online Guide and Sanctuary Network. This will require us to raise funds from other sources, and we plan to step up our fund raising activities in 2023.
1. Projects & Development:
1.1 Wexford–Pembrokeshire Pilgrim Way
- New route created
- Guide and resources developed on Outdoor Active and new website
- Pilgrimage Officers engaging communities and local pilgrims
We completed the design of the route, led a group of artists and musicians along the whole route for the ‘Creative Camino’, launched the website, hosted and led various guided pilgrimage and local community events (100+ pilgrims have walked with us), and have created an online guidebook & audio guide. We completed the branding process which culminated in the above name of the route and included a logo and general brand package. Working with stakeholders on both sides of the Irish Sea, we recruited two pilgrimage officers, David Pepper in Pembrokeshire and Rom Bates in County Wexford (who left in November, so it is now Elaine Walsh). We secured several publicity pieces on BBC Radio Wales, S4C TV & BBC Wales Today and in the Western Telegraph. In 2023, we will launch the pilgrim passport, an accommodation accreditation scheme, hold an academic/business/policy conference held in Ireland, and help create two new legal entities in Wales and Ireland by the time the project ends in July 2023.
1.2 Old Way
- Online Guide made free to all, overhauled to make it user friendly
- Collaboration to deliver AirBnB experiences and Kent Downs Pilgrim Festival events
- An estimated 600 – 700 pilgrims walked the Old Way this year.
Several pieces of work with the Online Guide culminated in a complete overhaul. Nature content was added earlier in the year, to ensure we are inclusive of those seeking to connect with the land. In the autumn, we completely restructured the guide, converting 38 sections to 14 stages, returning to the Gough Map waypoints as guidance and supplying itineraries of various daily distances to accommodate the measured and swift-paced alike. The result is much more mobile-friendly, easier to access logistic information on the move and adaptable to the needs of both planning and spontaneous pilgrims. This is in part thanks to our patron Emma Bridgewater due to her invaluable feedback after using the guide to walk the whole Old Way in April. The guide is now free to access (formerly it was £10) which should enable even more pilgrims to step out on the path.
We worked with a variety of partners to expand our programme of guided pilgrimages and events. We joined Kent Downs AONB, Hope Walking and AirBnB to deliver a programme of winter half-day pilgrimage experiences, and trialed a sell-out run of silent pilgrimages. We also supported the Kent Pilgrims Festival with some facilitated journeys with bespoke downloadable guides (resulting in 100 new Old Way pilgrims) and the Pilgrimage of the Chough, a two-day guided pilgrimage which brought together the strands of Becket’s story, heritage and modern wildlife conservation to inspire a journey of transformation, and collaboration continues with Canterbury Cathedral to monitor pilgrims.
Looking forward, with a new route structure in place, we are rolling out QR coded wayfinding posters along the route in lieu of waymarking, a pilgrim passport and guided pilgrimages including Sanctuary stays.
1.3 National Sanctuary Network & Pilgrim Accommodation
- Sanctuary scheme was expanded to cover all of Britain, not just Old Way
- Free access now to Sanctuary Network
- Other types of low-cost accommodation added to our directory of routes
After much interest in the Sanctuary scheme from route organisers, accommodation providers and pilgrims planning on walking a variety of routes, we seized the opportunity to roll out the Old Way model on a national basis, presented with a new website feature that displays an AirBnB-like set of listings.
We have now added a further three routes to the scheme as well as Old Way (12 sanctuaries): the Cornish Celtic Way (22), the Golden Valley (Herefordshire; 9, including the first Cathedral Sanctuary at Hereford Cathedral), and the Northern Saints Trail (to Durham; 5). Additionally, over 80 other potential locations have approached us for guidance regarding setting up their own Sanctuary, either from custodians themselves, parishioners seeking to engage their own church, or pilgrims wishing to encourage locations along their preferred routes. To meet this demand, we created our Sanctuary Starter Pack.
We are delighted to have made Sanctuary open to all by extending access outside of Friends of BPT and Old Way subscribers free of charge this year, where it formerly cost £10 – £24 (some locations have chosen to remain behind the Friends paywall for their own reasons). We look forward to cultivating Sanctuary across Britain next year, and will be actively encouraging the provision of Sanctuary on several routes which rely on traditional tourist accommodation.
To further tackle the challenges of low-cost accommodation for pilgrims, we have also collaborated with other hostel providers to include low-cost accommodation information on our routes, with pilgrimage routes being added reciprocally to their collection of long-distance walking routes. Cross-links with low-cost hostels have been applied to 54 routes, as identified by Independent Hostels, also adding Youth Hostel Association (YHA), Scottish Hostels, Mountain Bothies and Hostel World. Other forms of accommodation will be added in due course.
1.4 Volunteer Programme
- Volunteer guides raised £7.5k
- Pilgrims rated their experience 4.5 out 5
- Training materials created and delivered
We experimented with a range of volunteer roles this year, exploring how these opportunities could work on a remote basis. Our volunteer guides raised £7.5k to support our wider charitable work. It enabled us to expand our reach with guides volunteering from Cornwall to Cumbria. One guide, Sarah Janes, is even conducting a scientific survey on her dream incubation pilgrimage events.
Remote training and supervision proved a bit of a challenge, and we created a range of web-based written, podcast and video training materials along with a weekly approach that encouraged guides to get out on the path. We have found that some guides weren’t so confident with an entirely online approach.
With key lessons learned, we are expanding the volunteer guide programme next year, fully supported with in-person training and at targeted locations where we can build teams to cater for regular, silent, and pedal pilgrimages. This will ensure we are reaching pilgrims in all parts of Britain, expanding our audience through variety and value for money.
Additionally, some of the more technical admin roles were less sustainable without in-person training and supervision. In response, another volunteer is also working on improve the mapping of the pilgrim routes on our website directory – progress has been made towards automating the process of discovering pilgrim places on, or close to, routes and adding them to our digital maps for greater depth of information for our users.
2. Other Achievements and Performance
Britain’s Pilgrim Places Book – 12,000 copies sold, leaving 5,000 of our third print run to sell to break even.
Community Size and Usage – 20K Facebook followers, 11.5K Instagram followers, 10.2K Twitter followers, 14.7K e-newsletter subscribers. 510,000 website visits in 2022.
Academic research – Eleanor O’Keefe – Senior Researcher, Centre for Deliberative Research, National Centre for Social Research; and Principal Investigator on the British Academy/Leverhulme Trust funded project ‘Contemporary Pilgrimage Practices in the UK’ – analysed the survey data we collect via our website, and has published a report on BPT’s ‘pandemic pilgrimage boom’ along with a recent academic paper for International Journal of Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage Studies.
Emma Bridgewater promotion – The pottery company launched a ‘Walk with Purpose’ mug to promote British Pilgrimage Trust, promoted in April 2022.
Pilgrimage Today London Event – In November we hosted a symposium, evensong and party for 100+ people in St Bartholomew-the-Great Church, London. Speakers included Sir Simon Jenkins, Dame Fiona Reynolds, Dr Rupert Sheldrake, Peter Owen Jones, Gail Simmons, Dawn Champion (BPT), Christabel Reed (Advaya) and Guy Hayward (BPT).
3. Charitable impact
These routes have been added to website:
Gower Pilgrimage Way
Cuckmere Pilgrim Path
Oswestry to Pennant Melangell
St Aldhelm’s Way
Rosslyn Chapel Way
Friends Way 1
Porlock Pilgrim’s Trail
Yorkshire Heritage Way
Golden Valley Pilgrim Way
Archangel’s Way, Devon
Eden Way, Devon
Wexford–Pembrokeshire Pilgrim Way
Free Access to Resources Policy
As above, access to our Sanctuary Network + Old Way Online Guide was made free to all of our website visitors. From now on, we endeavour to make all our resources available for free where possible.
Eglantyne Books – we have done a promotion for this new book ‘Chaucer’s Pilgrims’ and accompanying prints of the woodcuts. Read about it here. In return they signed up as friends, £120.
CTVC TV – BPT’s Guy met with the CEO of the TV production company who have made the four BBC pilgrimage series over the past four years to consult on their future approach.
Pilgrim Ways for the Catholic Dioceses of England & Wales – a three year project to promote walking pilgrimage ways from each cathedral to one or more shrines in the same diocese, welcoming people of all faiths and none. More information can be found at www.pilgrimways.org.uk
We continue to facilitate the introduction of pilgrimage programmes into schools that request our advice and guidance.
4. Media & Communications
Comedian Ruby Wax features in Sunday Times Magazine interview with Rev Richard Coles mentioning our London pilgrimage: “I love seeing the real thing. When people tell you something that’s earth-shatteringly interesting, that’s my reason for living.” BBC launches Wexford–Pembrokeshire Pilgrim Way; Country Life feature article by Dame Fiona Reynolds; The Conversation UK; BBC SouthEast coverage of Old Way; FT How to Spend It – Top 5 Walking Holidays; BBC Radio London; BBC Radio Berkshire; Church Times article on our Sanctuary Network; Tablet on Old Way’s Kingley Vale Yews; Guardian on Old Way’s Lewes Stage and Sanctuary; Discover Britain magazine; Adventures in Nutopia podcast; BBC Radio on Pembrokeshire and Wexford; BBC Radio 4 The Listening Project; Danish Kristeligt Dagblad; BBC TV – Great Coastal Railway Journeys (to come); Mammut.
National Trust ‘Runnymede Conference’; Glastonbury Pilgrimage Festival; Arundel Festival of Arts; National Cathedrals Conference; BPT Patron Rupert Sheldrake’s 80th Birthday Retrospective; Bury St Edmunds Pilgrims Festival; Kent Pilgrims Festival (Canterbury); Small Pilgrim Places Network.
Big Give – participated in their Christmas Challenge, which was a chance for our individual donor community to double their donations. We raised £8,500, exceeding our target of £8,000.
Pilgrimages guided in London (Royal Route & Greenwich Songs), Sussex, Somerset, Yorkshire, Herefordshire, Cornwall, Kent, Lancashire.
Total charitable funds raised: £21K from Jan-Dec 22.
Friends of BPT – we have 197 active friends. From now on, we will focus our individual giving efforts on our Friends programme, having decided to make the Old Way guide and other resources free to use.
Major donors – we are very grateful to Peter Gangsted, Watson Foundation, Emma Bridgewater, Jonathan Tod, Jane Tufnell, Venetia Hoare and Hattie Hambro for their generous support over the year which amounted to £2,000.
We said goodbye to our Chairman Peter Gangsted, who has helped steer the charity since 2016, overcoming many challenges to become the nationally-recognised pilgrimage innovator in Britain today. We’d like to thank Peter for his leadership and look forward to seeing him again as a pilgrim on our future events.
Sylvia Perrins also stepped down as a trustee. Sylvia has been a fantastic source of support, both in her role as the Finance specialist, but also as someone with a deep love for pilgrimage and a passion for ensuring everyone can experience its benefits. We’d like to thank her for everything she has done and wish her well with her future projects.
We were delighted to appoint our new Chair, Simon Guild, and new trustee, William de Winton, to the Board.
Simon has 15 years’ experience as a non-executive director helping founders build online businesses. He has been a trustee of Blood Cancer UK for 8 years and a fellow of the RSA for 20 years and was previously CEO of MTV Networks Europe.
William has been a valued supporter of the BPT for many years. He spent much of his career following the financial sector. He sits on a number of charity boards and is a founding Trustee of Unlocking Potential. He is also a founding Trustee of the SpringBoard Bursary Foundation which is the UK’s largest boarding school bursary charity.
We are establishing a network of volunteers and local stakeholders to take up the torch of their local route, working with destinations such as cathedrals, shrines and landmarks to enable pilgrimage in their area to flourish.
The initial focus will be cathedrals, consisting of establishing local champion and pilgrimage event guides, delivering guided, silent and cycling pilgrimages and working initially with cathedral chapters to promote pilgrimage through their networks. Our ambition is to work with all routes in our website directory eventually.
Initial progress has been made with Canterbury Cathedral, Southwark Cathedral, St Davids Cathedral agreeing to participate in pilgrim monitoring. We hope to add Chichester to the programme shortly, and all other cathedrals in our first phase of approach will be given this option. This monitoring will enable us to understand the journeys that pilgrims are actually making (rather than their intended journeys), providing us with evidence to demonstrate demand and impact of pilgrimage on a national basis.
Southwark Cathedral have agreed to make changes to their visitor experience that will be more aimed at pilgrims. Southwell Minster will repeat an open pilgrimage day for their Walter Hilton Way that they ran in March – BPT patron Rupert Sheldrake walked with Alison Milbank from Thurgaton Priory to Southwell Minster for a party after evensong in the Bishop’s Palace.
We are now promoting the Cathedrals Pilgrim Passport.
We will build a programme of guided pilgrimages across the country, delivering volunteer-led experiences including Silent and Pedal Pilgrimages alongside our usual offering. We’re working with an initial 10 routes and hope to expand from there.
National Sanctuary Network
After a great start this year, we will continue to build the network, improve our guidance, and support more locations to offer low-cost Sanctuary accommodation on more routes.
We will be significantly upgrading our online presence to help fulfil our mission of being the best promotional platform for pilgrimage in the UK.
Between the Chalk and the Sea
We will be celebrating the publishing of Gail Simmons’ new book, Between the Chalk and the Sea. It explores pilgrimage past and present as she makes her own discoveries about the route, the land and herself whilst walking the Old Way during the pandemic.
Regional Pilgrimage ‘Chapters’
We hope to inspire informal or formal teams of active pilgrimage promoters in their region, affiliated with the BPT to build pilgrimage participation in their region. This is a nascent idea, but we will explore it further in 2022.
Meet-up Pilgrimage Groups and Societies
We want more local groups and societies to pop up around Britain that make it easier for groups of strangers who want to make pilgrimage together in their local area, akin to what the Ramblers already have, but focused on pilgrimage rather than general hiking. We hope to build a framework for how this might best happen in 2022 to increase engagement.
The delivery of our ambitions in 2023 and beyond will require us to step up our fund raising activities. We will focus on:
- Delivering paid-for guided pilgrimages
- Developing the Friends programme
- Growing our base of more significant donors (individuals and grant making bodies)
Doing this will ensure that the charity operates from a sustainable base and has the resources required to deliver its mission of promoting the practice of pilgrimage in the UK.