Keith Busfield describes an annual bike ride that takes in all 12 sites of all the Queen Eleanor crosses including Northampton…
August Bank Holiday weekend was a scorcher. Cyclists taking part in the 9th Queen Eleanor Cycle Ride raising money for a London homeless person’s charity, The Connection at St Martin’s were faced with melting tarmac, bursting tyres and weather worthy of a Mediterranean beach.
Covering themselves with sunscreen and cycling 200 miles in a little over 3 days, the group started just outside Lincoln, where Queen Eleanor died in 1290, and then visited the sites of all 12 Queen Eleanor Crosses finishing at Queen Eleanor’s Tomb in Westminster Abbey. King Edward 1 arranged for his dead wife’s body to be carried to London with crosses bearing statues of the Queen – the Queen Eleanor Crosses – to be erected at places where the procession stopped overnight. Three of the original crosses remain, in Geddington, Hardingstone (on the outskirts of Northampton) and Waltham Cross.
The sky was blue with not a cloud in sight and no respite from the heat as the group converged on Northampton, slightly delayed due to a snapped chain. Delapre Abbey looked spick and span and the cyclists girded their loins before the short climb up to the cross, being meet by the Save Our Queen Eleanor Cross group, campaigning for the repair and refurbishment of one of Northampton’s key historical monuments. The cycling group has actively supported the recent successful campaign to ensure the refurbishment of the Northampton cross, particularly since the majority of the others were destroyed during the English Civil War.
Each of the riders has their own reason for joining the ride. Charles Woodd, Chair of the Friends of the Connection, sets the scene: “The number of people sleeping rough in central London every night has doubled in 5 years. The Connection at St Martin’s provides a range of vital services to help homeless and vulnerable people take the steps they need to in order to get back into society. The Day Centre and Night Shelter are open every day; the Outreach Team goes out every night. On weekdays, users can access practical help and advice on housing, benefits and health, get help to find training, volunteering and job opportunities, and engage in confidence-building creative activities.”
Each personal story of a homeless person brings its own tale of heartache leading to broken lives – job loss, bereavement, relationship breakdown, mental health problems, financial worries etc.
For Peter Watson, from Cardiff, it’s his second time on the ride: “Since the last ride I have met a few homeless people and realised how valuable the work of the Connection and similar charities is. ‘J’, who I met recently, is a middle-aged professional man who I knew years ago, when he was working. Through losing his job and being unable to find any more work he is now wandering from city to city. Meanwhile ‘R’ I got chatting with in church – he had been an old-fashioned tramp. For 20 years he has moved from city to city, but now in his forties, he said that the life was getting too tough for him, and so he was trying to organise somewhere to live and get some work. But I haven’t seen him for six months, so I’m hoping that he survived and perhaps found somewhere like the Connection.”
Richard and his son, Matthew, are came down from Cumbria to do the Queen Eleanor Cycle Ride. “We both like cycling, usually around the fells and lakes, although we have not yet cycled 200 miles. I have been concerned about homelessness ever since I started teaching years ago, which involved, in my first school, teaching a module on the issues of homelessness. Sadly, homelessness remains an urgent issue.”
Simon from Salisbury meanwhile simply puts it: “As someone who has never had to worry about having a roof over my head, enough money, nor enough to eat I am very proud to be able to support those who go out and help homeless people to rebuild their lives.”
For every £100 raised it gives someone homeless two nights in the warmth and safety of an emergency Night Centre, with showers, hot nutritious food, and a 1-2-1 support session with a keyworker.