We all know that CAP's life-transforming work is not exclusive to our clients - and Lancashire man Ashley Parkinson is proof. When the now 57 year-old was homeless and sleeping in a graveyard, he would never have thought that two years on he would be planning to walk 240 miles to raise money for the Christian charity that turned his life around.
Yet here we are, with Ashley undertaking a mammoth fundraising walk to raise awareness of homelessness, hunger and debt. The trek will cover 240 miles from Clitheroe, Lancashire to Westminster, London, during which he will visit several CAP debt centres along the way.
In 2014, Ashley started to struggle to afford his rent and eventually lost his house. Finding himself homeless, he ended up back in his hometown of Clitheroe. Ashley had worked in the local cemetery in the 1980s and knew the public toilets were left unlocked overnight – and it was there, in the winter of 2014, that he found himself sleeping.
‘It was awful,’ Ashley recalls. ‘No human should have to live like that. In my lowest moment, I was sitting on a bench just before Christmas, looking out towards the town, and it started to rain. I was thinking about how I’d been trying so hard to get work and was failing all the time. I felt so miserable, so let down, and I couldn’t see a way out.’
Ashley spent two months sleeping in a graveyard when he ended up homeless
For two freezing cold months, Ashley slept in the cemetery toilets, just trying to survive the winter. Until one day, while sitting in a nearby park, a man came along.
The man was Colin Wrighton, who happened to be a former CAP client. He came across Ashley quite by chance, and invited him to a coffee morning which CAP had organised at St James’ Church for clients in the area.
‘I didn’t see how they could help me, this bunch of Christians, but they were all welcoming and non-judgmental,’ Ashley explains. ‘I couldn’t believe that these people who I once would have sneered at could be so friendly.’
He says that the coffee morning and meeting CAP was a turning point in his journey. ‘The love and kindness they showed me drove me onwards. Through CAP I found places like my old church and the local foodbank. It gave me somewhere to go to get some food and a drink, instead of having to go to the betting shop and pretend to put on a bet just to get the free coffee!’
Two years on from his lowest point, Ashley has a roof over his head and a new life, and he is determined to raise CAP’s profile. ‘So many people still don’t know what CAP is and does so I want to highlight the life-transforming work they do,’ he says.
The walk will kick off on 11 June and Ashley is expected to cover a whopping 15 miles a day! The CAP centres he plans to visit include Blackburn, Radcliffe, Altrincham, Middlewich, Crewe, Market Drayton, Stafford, Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Coventry, Rugby, Northampton, Bedford, St Albans and London South, finishing up in Westminster after an estimated 18 days. Whew!
‘God asked me to do this walk,’ Ashley explains. ‘It wasn’t my idea. I feel like he’s been preparing me for this my whole life. I used to be a postman and thought it was such a waste of time and energy walking all over the place, but now I think it was all part of the plan!
Ashley will walk 240 miles from Clitheroe to Westminster to raise funds for CAP
‘I feel this is a chance to make people aware of what it’s like to be homeless, to go without food, and to show people that it’s unacceptable. I’m doing it for four groups of people – those who are homeless, those who are hungry, those who are suffering with debt, and finally for all the people who have helped me out of my predicament.
‘God willed me to go to the capital and I intend to pray outside of parliament when I get there, for all these vulnerable people in the UK.’
Along the way, Ashley is inviting people to walk with him. ‘Whether it’s for a few hundred yards, a mile or a longer distance, I would love people to get involved and walk alongside me. It would be a great motivation and I’d appreciate the company too!’
Pam Entwistle, CAP’s Centre Manager in Clitheroe, who has been a guide and confidante to Ashley since 2014, will be setting off with him. ‘Ashley is showing admirable stamina in undertaking this challenge. It is going to be a real pilgrimage for him and a great event for CAP – I urge everyone to get involved in any way they can, whether it be by walking with him, making a donation, or just telling people about what he’s doing!’
From left to right: Colin Wrighton, Ashley Parkinson, Pam Entwistle
‘I can’t wait to get started,’ Ashley adds. ‘I don’t actually want to stop at Westminster – I want to continue to St Michael’s Mount! I want to show that the issues I’m highlighting don’t stop when I finish this walk – they’re still ongoing, still real, and still a problem.’
All true, but we wonder if Ashley will still be saying that when he’s 240 miles gone! Either way, CAP wishes him the best of luck in this incredible endeavour and urges everyone who can to get on board and support him in one way or another.
On Tuesday 28 June, Ashley arrived at Westminster and completed the walk. Along the way he had suffered from a leg infection and had to take a detour to hospital, but even this didn't deter him and he continued on to the end. Unsurprisingly, numerous people have shown their support for Ashley's mission and the sponsors have been flooding in - at time of press he has raised £2,400 for CAP!
Ashley was met at Westminster by Canon Vernon White and Nigel Evans, the MP for Ashley's hometown of Ribble Valley, Clitheroe.
Nigel said, 'Ashley has undertaken a tremendous challenge and he was still fighting fit when I met him at Westminster, except perhaps for one dodgy leg! Averaging sixteen miles per day for over two weeks is no mean feat. What is more this was carried out for a fantastic and worthy cause.'