Services – Brancardier & Handmaid

In the last few years, the CA Pilgrimage has combined the two services, though brancs and handmaids still report to their individual Head of Service.

There are usually about 150 adults who come on the CA’s pilgrimage who need care or assistance: our Assisted Pilgrims, or APs. Some APs, if accompanied by a relative, spouse or carer, choose to stay in a hotel in Lourdes and receive basic support from volunteer helpers. This usually takes the form of wheelchair assistance moving about the town and to services. Many of our APs, however, stay in the Accueil, a residential facility where APs receive full-time care from volunteer helpers who work in teams.

Each AP staying in the Accueil has different needs and the support each AP receives from volunteer helpers therefore varies from straightforward companionship to full assistance with washing and dressing. Any medical and specialised physical care needed by the APs is provided by the qualified doctors and nurses who form an integral part of our pilgrimage, but the majority of our volunteer helpers are not medical professionals. We have some volunteer helpers who come on the CA pilgrimage year after year, but we have other volunteer helpers who are on their first pilgrimage. All are welcome and all have an important contribution to make to the community that we form during our pilgrimage week.

Anyone aged 17 and over may volunteer as a helper, subject to suitable references being received and the successful completion of the relevant CRB checks. There is a range of duties volunteer helpers undertake which enables people of all ages, capabilities and experience to volunteer and we are always looking for new volunteer helpers. There are limited childcare arrangements in place for the children of volunteer helpers: please see the notes below.

The work volunteer helpers undertake generally falls into the following categories:

• Rolling – helping people to move from the Accueil or hotels to the services of the pilgrimage or to shops, cafes etc. Usually this involves pushing wheelchairs.
• Accueil Care – assisting the nurses with the care of the guests in the Accueil e.g. helping them to wash and dress, making beds, cleaning their rooms and bathrooms and providing companionship.
• Other Accueil duties – which include helping in the Dining Room (although not cooking) and the vital job of ensuring that there is a steady supply of tea and coffee.
• Ceremonies – each day a team will be asked to help out in the various ceremonies during the Pilgrimage.
• Piscines – recommended for experienced volunteer helpers only. This may be combined part-time with other duties in some circumstances.
• Music Group – it is possible to combine this with other duties.
• Marshalling – directing processions. Those who undertake this duty are usually very experienced helpers who know Lourdes well.

Male volunteer helpers are called brancardiers (meaning stretcher-bearers) and the female volunteer helpers are called handmaids. Most volunteer helpers will work in mixed teams of handmaids and brancardiers undertaking a combination of Accueil Care and Rolling duties and we recommend that first time volunteer helpers select this as their preferred duty, as it gives the best overview of the work that is undertaken in Lourdes.

Most volunteer helpers travel and book their accommodation via Tangney Tours, but some choose to travel and book their accommodation independently. Please note that we need as many helpers (particularly experienced helpers) as possible on the main Tangney pilgrimage flights, as this is how the majority of our APs travel.

The Brancs and Handmaids are led by the Chief Brancardier (currently Richard Hargreaves) and the Chief Handmaid (currently Ciara Jackson).