Safety of Vulnerable Pilgrims

Pilgrim Cross – Safety of Vulnerable Pilgrims: Guidelines for Leadership teams

This document seeks to provide guidance and clarity to Leadership teams with respect to providing a supportive environment to both children and adults who may be at risk of harm.  The requirements of these groups can be quite different and as such they are dealt with separately in the paragraphs that follow.

These guidelines have been drawn up with reference to:

  • The Care Act 2014
  • Care and Support Statutory Guidance October 2018
  • “A Programme for Action: Review on Child Protection in the Catholic Church in England and Wales” (The Nolan Report – September 2001)
  • “Good Practice in Consent Implementation Guide: Consent to Examination or Treatment” (Department of Health, 2007) 
  • Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service: Procedures Manual (2012 and 2018)

The “Leadership” is taken to mean those on the Leg in particular positions of responsibility, e.g. Leaders, Secretaries, Chaplains etc.  The National Director of Pilgrim Cross would also be included in this group.

The annual Pilgrim Cross Pilgrimage has been walking to Walsingham since 1948. When it was first started it was anticipated that it would principally be for students currently at University. However things always change and in the intervening years many people have continued to be involved with the organisation as pilgrims long after student days are finished. Another change has been the involvement of young people and children. These could be the children of pilgrims, younger students (e.g. 6th formers), or children from parishes who join a Leg for the day. It is crucial that the Pilgrimage asks itself the question; how can we create an environment where young people can benefit maximally from all that the Pilgrimage has to offer?  

At the same time it is clear that adults who are potentially vulnerable also take part in the pilgrimage and should have their needs considered in a similar fashion.

Pilgrim Cross believes in, and is committed to, the safety of all vulnerable people, particularly those involved in the annual Easter pilgrimage to Walsingham. In this guidance vulnerable pilgrims are:

  • People under the age of 18, or
  • Adults at risk, that is any person who is aged 18 years or over and is at risk of abuse or neglect because of their needs for care and or support (adapted from The Care Act 2014) 

The pilgrimage will try to create a safe environment for all vulnerable people involved in the pilgrimage.  


People under 18

People under 18 are children.  However, children over 16 are above the age of consent. It is important for Leadership teams to understand this with respect issues to do with medical treatment for instance.  

In order for Leadership teams to provide a safe environment they should follow the guidance below:

  • The Leadership of any Leg will have the final decision about whether people under 18 can walk on their Leg. This decision is to be taken in consultation with the National Director. Children are under the care of their parents or carers, at all times, while on Pilgrim Cross. The pilgrimage does not provide any childcare.                                                               
    • If someone under 18 is allowed onto a Leg without their parent or carer present then they must have written permission from their parent or carer stating who their Nominated Adult is during the pilgrimage. The Nominated Adult will not be one of the Leadership team.  It is up to the parent/carer of the child in question to satisfy themselves that the Nominated Adult is willing and able to carry out this function.  This will be a private arrangement between these two people.  It is not for Pilgrim Cross to nominate who this will be.  This permission will be given via FORM PC and the Leadership of the Leg in question will keep a copy of this.
    • It will be the responsibility of the Nominated Adult to:
    i) contact the parent or carer in the case of any emergency (therefore they must have contact details),
    ii) take all reasonable steps to ensure that the young person is safe during the pilgrimage (this means that care will be taken to ensure that the young person is not put, or does not put themselves, in a position where they could be vulnerable to harm),
    iii) ensure that the young person is not in a position to break the law with respect to the consumption of alcohol (for guidance with respect to this consult,
    iv) take all reasonable steps to ensure that the young person is not involved in illegal activity.
    • If points i – iv above are not adhered to then the Leadership of the Leg in question should attempt, through discussion and negotiation, to address any difficulties there may be.  Ultimately however, it will be the right of the Leadership to ask the young person to leave the pilgrimage if such issues remain unresolved. This decision should be taken in consultation with the National Director and, in any case, must be communicated to the National Director.
    • The Leadership of a Leg, although not directly responsible for the care of such a young person, are in a particular position of trust during the pilgrimage. As such their relationship with that person should be appropriate, particularly with respect to points ii, iii and iv above.  The following guidelines from Chapter 4 of the CSAS Procedures Manual (May 2012) may be of use:
  • treat all children and young people equally and with respect.
  • engage and interact appropriately with children and young people. 
  • challenge unacceptable behaviour and provide an example of good conduct you wish others to follow – an environment which allows bullying, inappropriate shouting or any form of discrimination is unacceptable. 
  • respect a child or young person’s right to personal privacy. 
  • recognise that particular care is required in moments when you are discussing sensitive issues with children and young people e.g. maintain appropriate boundaries. 
  • avoid situations that compromise your relationship with children and young people, and are unacceptable within a relationship of trust.  This rule should apply to all such behaviours including those which would not constitute an illegal act. 

Pilgrim Cross is very grateful for the hospitality shown by those who welcome us. This includes publicans, many of whom have become good friends of the pilgrimage over the years. The pilgrimage does not wish to see their livelihoods compromised by the activity of any pilgrims.

Pilgrim Cross accepts that sometimes people join the Legs to walk for a part of the route, e.g. from parishes along the way. If such a person is under 18 then the Leadership should still adhere to the above safeguards. To facilitate this the Leadership should carry with them copies of FORM PC to obtain parental consent as well as copies of this document.

All parents/carers who are thinking of allowing their child to take part in Pilgrim Cross should realise that each Leg has its own culture and way of doing things. They should investigate these and be clear what Pilgrim Cross involves. 

Leadership teams should ensure that parents are aware of what occurs during the week.  This is so that parents can make an informed choice concerning the appropriateness of the pilgrimage for their child.  Particular things that Leadership teams should ensure parents are aware of are:

  • how far is walked, both in total and each day
  • access to first aid and medical facilities 
  • what happens in the evenings e.g. going to pubs, staying up late etc. 
  • sleeping arrangements i.e. generally on hall floors without separating out the sexes.

Parents may well have their views about how their child is catered for with respect to the above arrangements and Leadership teams should decide whether such requests can be accommodated before allowing the young person to walk.  Clearly any discussions should involve the Nominated Adult and be clear about their responsibilities.

In addition to this the Leadership of Legs should provide parents/carers and prospective Nominated Adults with copies of this document to ensure that all parties are aware of their responsibilities.

Peg, Wells, Wensum and Heacham Legs

With respect to Peg, Wells, Wensum and Heacham Legs the above safeguards should still be taken if a child, whose parent or carer is not present, takes part in the pilgrimage.

Much of the guidance concerning the safety of children and young people with respect to their contact with religious organisations centers around volunteers and church employees who “provide care” for them. Pilgrim Cross does not enlist people to “care for” children while on the pilgrimage. In this way the guidance does not adequately deal with the needs of the pilgrimage. On the family Legs parents are advised to satisfy themselves that they are happy to leave their child in someone else’s care. How they make this determination is their responsibility. The Leaderships, however, have the right, in the same way as all Leg Leaderships do, to decide who they will allow to walk the Leg in any particular year.


Transport in private cars

It is often necessary for pilgrims (children or adults) to be transported in private vehicles whether because of injury or the wider needs of the Leg e.g. transporting luggage, going to make lunch etc.  The following guidance from the CSAS Procedures Manual (2018) will help leaders think about matters of good practice with respect to keeping vulnerable pilgrims safe:

“Parents and volunteers who are driving on behalf of [the pilgrimage] must be made aware that they have a legal responsibility for the safety of children, young people or adults in their cars:

  • parental agreement must be obtained for their children to be carried in other parents and volunteer’s cars;  
  • the driver is responsible for making sure any passengers wear their seatbelts always throughout the journey;  
  • all efforts should be made to avoid parents and volunteers transporting children being in the position of being alone with them;  
  • if a situation arises where it is unavoidable for an adult to transport a single child, young person or an adult who lacks capacity to consent, the passenger should always travel in the back seat and the event should be reported to the event or group leader and recorded.”


Adults at risk

In recent years national guidance has taken us away from defining people as “vulnerable adults” to considering that there may be times when adults are at risk of abuse or neglect, and on account of their needs for “care and support” are unable to protect themselves (adapted from Care and Support Statutory Guidance, October 2018). 

Many people who fit this picture may not define themselves as being at risk for a whole host of reasons.  In addition our society respects the rights of adults to make decisions for themselves, even when these may appear, at times, to be both unwise and risky.  This can depend on the individual’s capacity to understand the consequences of the decision being made. The above points can make supporting any adult a difficult process for Leadership teams.  This is compounded by the fact that you may well not know about an adult’s vulnerabilities when you first meet them; it comes to light later.  Leadership teams should not be scared to ask at an early stage about the needs people may have, for example, through the application process.  Any particular difficulties should be brought to the National Director’s attention before the pilgrimage starts.   

There are, however, some sensible steps that one can take to be prepared for potential difficulties.

  • Being aware of any health problems that may make someone vulnerable, e.g. mental health or physical problems, and what the nature of their vulnerability is.  For example, are they vulnerable to stress, how do they react to stress, are there any particular warning signs, what risks are associated with the person feeling stressed (to self or others), does their vulnerability make them susceptible to exploitation for any reason (clearly an exhaustive list is not possible here),
  • Knowing what support networks they have e.g. family/friend contacts, professional support, helplines etc.  
  • Knowing contact details that you need as Leadership teams should the person have difficulties during the pilgrimage.
  • Investigating any relevant skills amongst other pilgrims to support the individual, e.g. any health care or social care knowledge/experience.

Again it is important that Leadership teams retain the right to decide who will and who won’t walk on the pilgrimage.  They should consider carefully whether a potential pilgrim’s needs are too great for the Leg to accommodate, for example if there are problems with accessibility or appropriate facilities during the week that cannot be overcome.

Having made the above points it should not be assumed that an adult who may be at risk in certain circumstances will inevitably be unable to take part in the pilgrimage. The starting point should be a consideration of how to enable a person to be involved in Pilgrim Cross while considering how any difficulties might be managed or supported. 

Support During the Pilgrimage

It may be that difficulties arise during the week that Leadership teams require support with.  The National Director must be contacted in these cases and will have the contact details of individuals who, because of their professional knowledge and qualifications are able to provide support.  Leadership teams should always consult with the National Director first in order to find potential solutions to problems that arise.  The National Director will want to make themselves available to provide any support or information that would be helpful.

To provide an extra layer of support for leadership teams there is a section of helpful contacts at the end of the document.  Included are the contact details for all the Local Authorities along the Pilgrim Cross route.  These telephone numbers will put you in touch with professionally trained staff who will be able to discuss whatever concern you have and provide support or take referrals.  If you believe that you are encountering a safeguarding issue then any referrals must be made to the Local Authority where the alleged incident took place. In addition there are also the contact details for all the Diocesan safeguarding co-ordinators for all of the Catholic Diocese on the Pilgrim Cross route.  These officers have agreed to talk over any concerns you have and provide support and guidance. They can provide an independent view of the situation without knowledge of the individuals involved in whatever situation is causing concern.

For many people the Pilgrimage is a place of safety. It provides an environment where life’s difficulties and hurts can be shared in a climate of security. In this climate pilgrims may wish to share life experiences that are beyond the remit of anyone on the Pilgrimage to deal with. It is important to remember that if someone has chosen to share such experiences then they are doing so, most likely, because they feel safe and trust those around them. This trust should be respected. The information should be dealt with calmly and in a way that does not increase their level of fear and powerlessness. To this end the Leaders will also have contact numbers of the Local Authority of the area that they happen to be in at that time.  These are issued at the end of this guidance. These organisations can be contacted for support, guidance and possible legal advice.  

It is important that all pilgrims remember that if they are concerned that any individual is suffering abuse then they should contact the Local Authority in the area they are in as soon as possible.

To promote the contents of this document and ensure Legs are aware of their responsibilities Pilgrim Cross will appoint an officer to oversee the Safety of Vulnerable Pilgrims. This person will also ensure that this document is revisited and revised when necessary. This document will be reviewed annually.

If you have any questions about the contents of this short document please email Pilgrim Cross’ National Director at

Helpful Numbers

Local Authority MASH (multi-agency safeguarding hub) EDT (Emergency Duty Team)
Nottinghamshire 0300 500 8090 0300 456 4546
Oxfordshire 0345 050 7666 0800 833408
Norfolk 0344 800 8020 0344 800 8020
Suffolk 0345 606 1499 0808 800 4005
Northamptonshire 0300 126 7000 (option 1) 01604 626938
Lincolnshire 01522 782111 01522 782333
Leicestershire 0116 305 0005 0116 2551606
Cambridgeshire 0345 045 5203 01733 234724
Essex  0345 603 7627 0345 6061212
Hertfordshire 0300 123 4043 0300 123 4040
Buckinghamshire 01296 383962 0800 999 7677
Central Bedfordshire 0300 300 8585 0300 300 8123


Diocese Safeguarding Co-ordinator Contact details
East Anglia Mick Thurley 07429 215344
Nottingham Rachel Campion 07825 648310
Northampton Danielle Dixon 07833 050628
Brentwood* Simon Moules 01277 265234

Westminster Geraldine Allen 0207 798 9196 

(9am – 5pm Mon – Fri)

Birmingham No one currently in post but someone will speak to you. 0121 230 6240 

(9am – 4pm Mon – Fri)


*Simon can be contacted by email and he will respond with a phone call

Reviewed: 29th October 2023