From the Oxford Catholic Worker

See recent photos here

It was so good to arrive in Oxford yesterday! I’ve never before walked over 100 miles, while more or less sleeping rough for much of the time and carrying a 15 kilo pack, so I was VERY glad to arrive at this destination.

My body is very tired, of course, although it is noticeable how fit one can become in just 11 days. I walked the 10 miles or so from Abingdon, my camp of the night before, in just 3 hours, and felt I could easily have carried on. But now that I’ve actually stopped it is definitely catching up with me.. My muscles ache, and I feel all the scratches and insect bites. Remarkably so far the feet have been pretty OK, apart from blisters on my little toes and a bruise under my big toe nail. That’s probably too much information, but it is amazing how the body adapts so quickly.

I’ve been resting most of the time but have been made very welcome by Soo Tian and the other residents. The Oxford Catholic Worker actually predates the London Catholic Worker, where I know most of the people, especially my friend Fr. Martin Newell who started it. For those who don’t know The Catholic Worker is a radical international christian anarchist movement founded by Dorothy Day, which seeks to put into practice the gospel of Jesus Christ in a very direct and uncompromising way. I have great admiration for their work, and am sort of affiliated with the London group, I suppose.  The founding inspiration of The Simon Community was the Catholic Worker, and Simon volunteers and workers still seek to live out the same message of inclusive community today.

Apart from Soo Tian all the residents of St Francis House are people who came to the UK for sanctuary, but whose claims were rejected without a full and adequate assessment. Tens of thousands of people are in this “no recourse to public funds” category, a phrase used a lot in this context, and which is actually a terrible short hand for destitute, without any rights, in between states – a truly horrible bureaucratic limbo. One young guy I’ve been chatting to has at last been recognized as having a genuinely founded fear of persecution in his native Afghanistan, and after 11 years (words fail..) he has recently been accepted as a refugee.

I’ve been weighing it up carefully and have decided – I think – against going to sleep on the streets. It feels too much like being a homeless “tourist” or sensation seeker. And I know I have  a bank account and home and life to plug back into when I am done. During times in these travels I will inevitably rough it, perhaps even bed down on a cardboard box or 2. I’ve already been sleeping in the woods more than half the time, after all. I wonder what other people think about this?

I will probably blog a bit  more before setting out on the next phase of the journey on Monday. That’s all for now folks!


Day 4: the journey so far

A brief update from my friend Don’s place in Maidenhead. His hospitality has been so welcome, especially after 2 nights of wild camping and an average walk of 12 miles a day. I arrived in Maidenhead this afternoon and he came to meet me, walked with me from the river to the pub, and then seeing how tired I was he carried my pack back to his place. There is a true brother!

I’m feeling a great deal more human after a bath, a short nap, and getting some clothes washed. One reason the walking is hard is that I’m carrying a fair bit of weight. It turns out that my pack is 15 kilos! I’ve checked it thoroughly and can’t see anything that isn’t essential. Unless you can spot anything in the photo..

IMG_6039 (768x1024)

Here are some more photos from the first few days. They are on Facebook but the link should work I hope

Camping out the woods near Chertsey on Tuesday and Old Windsor last night was interesting. I found myself involuntarily looking around in case anyone saw my heading into the woods. And I even had paranoid thoughts about the farmer coming with his gun, and the like. I felt furtive. Especially walking along the very well to do banks of the Thames. I’m sure this is a theme to which I’ll return, but another day.

I’ll finish with this verse we used in our worship on Sunday, partly with reference to me setting out the following day –

This is what the Lord says: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. Jeremiah 6:16


Less than a week to go now and I am feeling some trepidation. To leave behind my wife, home and friends, work routines and support systems for 2 months is fairly radical. Of course I knew this all along but as the start date of 1st July approaches I find myself feeling quite unprepared. A bit daunted too, in truth. But even if I did somehow have the illusion of feeling prepared, it is still a big enterprise.

Other than a couple of items I have most of the kit I need for the journey. Some good boots and a waterproof jacket, an excellent backpack and sleeping bag kindly loaned by Brother Vaughan. And thanks to my friend from Phoenix Housing  Penny Quinton I have a wonderful Hennessy Hammock to sleep in.

Something about the idea of going with just the clothes I am wearing appeals. Didn’t Jesus send the disciples out telling them to take only the absolute minimum and to trust God for the rest? And when the early Celtic monks and saints set out on their voyages they considered their lives as offerings, giving up all their rights and self sufficiency and praying that the Lord would guide them where He wanted them to go. And I also consciously making the decision to give up my (illusory) self sufficiency on this pilgrimage.

But I am going to need a phone and maps and other essential paraphernalia. I’m not exactly Bear Grylls after all.. And I do have a not-very-cunning plan on the route, you might be pleased to hear. At least I know the starting point – my front door – and end point – Iona – and a few of the places in between!

On Monday, ready or not, rain or shine, I will set off walking along the Thames Path to Oxford.


Hopefully by the end of the first day I’ll have reached The Community of the Sisters of the Church at Ham Common where hospitality is offered. Amongst those who live in the community are some who are in Home Office limbo, without recourse to state support or public funds. Housing Justice is involved in developing better accommodation and support for people facing this difficult situation, especially through London Hosting, with colleagues from Praxis, Spare Room, the Catholic Worker and others.

Much of my 9 weeks on the road and on the street is lightly sketched, for the reasons already outlined. But among the places I hope to visit, if the winds are fair, are Hillfields, St David’s, Whitby and Holy Island. Hitch hiking is maybe the modern equivalent of setting out in a little leather coracle – my way of trusting the Lord to lead me where he wants me to be. If it doesn’t go well, of course, I could end up stuck at a Service Station in deepest Wiltshire.

Join me in the adventure by checking back with this blog now and again. And if you are a believer don’t forget to pray for me! Especially that I don’t get stuck at the service station. Thank you

Less than two weeks to go..

July 1st is now less than a fortnight away, so I’m starting to feel excited about this thing l’ll be doing. This what is it? This pilgrimage. This retreat. This walkabout. This time on the road and on the street.

Most people I’ve spoken to about the plan have understood what it’s about. In fact a few have said they would like to join me! My Franciscan friend Brother Vaughan has offered to walk the first day with me, out of London. I think I am going to take him up on that. He is also the one who is lending me one of his backpacks. He has 3! He does a lot of walking, including the Camino to Santiago de Compostella.

I’m experimenting with writing this on the blackberry, to find out if it will work while I am out on the road, but it doesn’t work so well. I may have to find the use of  computer at a internet cafe or day centre as I go.

I will post again a bit later as its a bit of a palaver on the blackberry..

On the Road and On the Street

Pilgrimage to Canterbury photos

one of the many fields of rape we walked through this year

one of the many fields of rape we walked through this year

the pub was not open..

the pub was not open..

Introduction: about this blog and about me

I am starting this blog mainly with the aim of documenting some of my thoughts and reflections, with a focus on homelessness and the state of society today.

You’ll probably want to know about me, so here are a few things:

  • I work for the national Christian housing and homelessness charity Housing Justice.
  • I started in this homelessness field in 1990 volunteering at the West London Day Centre. I have also worked and volunteered for The Passage, Emmaus, Union Chapel, The Simon Community, North London Action for the Homeless, and Caris Islington Churches Winter Shelter.
  • In May 2003 I became Development Worker for UNLEASH, Church Action on Homelessness in London. We were just 2 part time staff, sharing offices with Housing Justice, which itself launched in 2003 when CHAS, the Catholic Housing Aid Society, merged with CNHC, the Churches National Housing Coalition. UNLEASH merged with Housing Justice in 2006. Sorry about the complicated acronyms!
  • I’m a Christian, worshipping with BethnalGreenMissionChurch since we moved to this area in 2009. And we are: me, my wife Francoise and our youngest son Theo. Our two older children, Claire and Cameron, no longer live at home, except Cameron who comes home from Uni (sometimes) during the holidays.
  • Over my 20’s and 30’s I tried out various careers, and did a lot of travelling. I made a living for a time as a busker, in France, Italy and the US. I also lived in two radical communities: The Farm in Tennessee, and a small anarchist commune in Sardinia.
  • These days I still sing and play guitar and sometimes get inspired to write songs. I lead worship at our church, and can occasionally be spotted playing the blues, the folk, and now and again even a bit of Dad Rock.

I suppose the main thing to know for the purposes of this blog is that I have been involved in action on homelessness for about 20 years, the last 10 with Housing Justice.

A personal pilgrimage: On the Road and on the Street

Another reason for starting the blog is that, thanks to Housing Justice, I have an opportunity to take a sabbatical this summer. In July and August I’ll be doing something that has been on my heart for a while: a personal pilgrimage around this country. I’ll be walking and hitch hiking, visiting places that have significance for me, like Whitby where I was born, and places that have significance as centres of the Christian life, like Holy Island and Iona.

I’m also going to spend some time living on the streets, among people who are sleeping rough and using homelessness support services.

Why a pilgrimage? One reason is that I’ve taken part in the Connection at St Martin-in-the-Fields Pilgrimage to Canterbury since 2007. Each Spring Bank Holiday weekend over a hundred people come together to walk the 74 miles from St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square to Canterbury Cathedral, raising funds for the Connection’s work with homeless people in London. Françoise and I just got back, so it seems a good place to start, especially as I was invited to give a brief reflection at the Thanksgiving Service on Monday night in the Crypt of Canterbury Cathedral.

arriving at Canterbury Cathedral with our banner

arriving at Canterbury Cathedral with our banner

“Some people talk the talk, but we walk the walk, don’t we? And we have the blisters to prove it!

This year was my seventh pilgrimage. I joined in 2007 when I heard about it from Roger Shaljean and his late wife Kath, who came up with the idea. Probably like many of you, the idea of a pilgrimage in support of homeless people made sense.

I first met Roger in 2003 when I started with Housing Justice, the national Christian campaign on housing and homelessness. Among other things we resource church responses to the needs of homeless people, like night shelters. And folks, I probably don’t need to tell you, but the situation is getting worse. However I won’t jump on that soap box here.

What I want to share is something of what this pilgrimage means to me. After seven years it looks like I’m hooked, but why?

Top of the list, for me, is walking with a group of people in companionship, in fellowship. Being part of this community where everyone really matters. As we just heard in the Bible reading (1 Corinthians 12.12-27) we are “One body with many members” and each one is important. Everyone matters. Whatever you do, whatever your “station in life”, and whatever your “status.”

This sense of a supportive community to belong to is something I really value, even something I need. In my own life I have for various reasons had a sense of being an outsider. I know this is partly what drew me to this work, responding to the issue of homelessness in our society.

But companionship, being together in fellowship with a community is vital to all of us, isn’t it? It is no exaggeration to say that we need this to protect ourselves from (hat tip to Xavier and his Shakespeare recitation in Charing yesterday) the “Slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. Or, more simple, to help us to resist the alienating effects of “modern life”.

The world, as viewed from where I sit with Housing Justice, is becoming a harder place. But we, together, don’t have to become like that. And we, together, can take this difference into our lives, our families, our work (if we have some to do), and our neighbourhoods.

In this community of pilgrimage we find the love of God and of each other. And we discover that all we need is in each other, and this is our real and lasting treasure.

And every time I see the 2013 blue Pilgrimage T shirt it will remind me of the bluebells in Kingsdown Wood!”