THE organisers of an annual event that raises more than £1 million to help conserve England’s historic churches are fearful that coronavirus restrictions could hit their efforts this year.
On the second Saturday in September since 1985, tens of thousands of people have been sponsored to walk or cycle a circuit round churches in their area in the annual “Ride+Stride”. The event is supported by the National Churches Trust, and the funds that it raises are the single largest source of income for many of the county churches trusts, which award grants to individual churches.
But, as lockdown restrictions are being relaxed gradually, and many church supporters are still shielding, organising this year’s event on 12 September has been complicated. “Planning began right in the middle of the epidemic when life was pretty much put on hold,” the chair of the national Ride+Stride committee, Hilary Cakebread Hall, who is the Oxfordshire county organiser, said.
“But there was always a desire to do something: even if you couldn’t do the usual Ride+Stride, you could at least walk round a churchyard. Also, as churches were locked up for the first time in hundreds of years for months on end, there was real concern that there was an immediate loss of income for churches from the collection plate, and the county trusts would lose cash from Ride+Stride events which is a substantial part of their income. Also, locked-up ancient buildings can start to deteriorate quite quickly.
“Our aspirations are high to match last year’s total of £1.2 million, but our expectations are perhaps less so.”
The organisation’s website has links to county trusts’ own sites, detailing the events planned. So far, 22 groups have joined in, and only five — Cheshire, Cornwall, Herefordshire, Rutland, and Sussex — have dropped out.
“Some don’t expect to raise as much as they usually do, but at least want to give it a go,” Mrs Cakebread Hall said. “We are really thrilled at that response. In the past, churches have opened for the riders, with volunteers providing refreshments, but a significant proportion are saying they won’t open, as they rely on an elderly congregation who don’t want to take the risk.
“We are saying ‘Do what you can.’ Perhaps people can just visit a church; a family could just take a picnic or just walk round their garden — we are happy with that.”
The Surrey Churches Preservation Trust is offering a choice of routes ranging from a short tour round seven churches in Guildford to a 43-church circuit taking in Epsom, Dorking, and Cheam. Many trusts offer themed routes; Warwickshire has a Shakespeare circuit and others use pilgrimage trails.
“Last year, we had a 98-year-old do it on a mobility scooter,” Mrs Cakebread Hall said. “The most important thing is to encourage people who want to do their bit to be creative.”