By Vicki Munday - April 12th, 2023 | Posted in News No comments

HCPT (Hosanna House and Children’s Pilgrimage Trust) is a registered charity offering pilgrimage holidays, to Lourdes in the south of France, for disabled and disadvantaged people from around the UK and further afield.

The Southampton-based family group (Group 170) was formed in 2008 and has built up a strong team of helpers and some wonderful supporters who fundraise, help with the practical aspects of preparing for Lourdes, refer children to us and pray for our safety and good times whilst in Lourdes.

Vicki Munday is one of this year’s Southampton volunteers and shares her thoughts….

If you visit Lourdes during Easter week you might be forgiven for wondering if you really have arrived at the holy pilgrimage site or if you have perhaps taken a wrong turn and ended up at some kind of party. The streets will be thronged with children, young people, and adults in brightly coloured clothing, funny hats or fancy dress, and the meadow will be filled with the sounds of impromptu football matches and parachute games, while the chapels echo to the tunes of ‘Rise & Shine’ and ‘Sing it in the Valleys’. But don’t worry, you are in Lourdes and the peaceful atmosphere in the Domain will be preserved, you’ve just arrived during the HCPT Easter Pilgrimage!

I am a volunteer with HCPT’s Southampton-based Group 170, which has been travelling to Lourdes as part of the Easter pilgrimage since 2009. The Trust itself was founded in 1956 and offers a fun, safe week in Lourdes to around 1,000 disabled and disadvantaged children every Easter when they stay in hotels with their volunteer helpers in family groups, so called because the group is like an extended family. Group 170’s volunteers pay for their own fares and accommodation and undertake fundraising activities throughout the year to cover the children’s costs, including sponsored events and holding an afternoon tea party.

Thanks to Covid, Group 170 haven’t travelled to Lourdes since 2019 so it was with great excitement that we met up for our first group training afternoon in October 2022 to start preparing for the 2023 Easter pilgrimage. We have several preparation afternoons where we have safeguarding training, learn about the care needs of the children we are taking, and start to gather all the equipment and essential items we need to take. We had a whole weekend together in February when we attended a regional preparation day at the Salesian College in Farnborough with some other groups from our region, including the youth helpers from the college’s 6th form.

Group 170 takes sponsored children aged between 7 and 11 and, thanks to having several medically qualified helpers in our team, we can take children with some very complex care needs. Our packing list often includes vital medical equipment and for the six sponsored children who are travelling with us this year, we are taking five wheelchairs and four safe-space sleeping tents! In our group, the helper-to-child ratio is usually 2:1 and, by the time we travel on Easter Sunday, each helper pair will have visited their child at home two or even three times to get to know them and learn about their specific care needs. We will have also had two whole group meetings with the children, including a visit to a local café, to ensure everyone gets along before we all board the plane for our Lourdes pilgrimage adventure. We are almost ready to go now and, despite the incredibly early pick-up time on Easter Sunday morning, we are all very excited about our trip and can’t wait to tell everyone all about it when we return…