Looking Back at 25: The history of CRY’s Heart of London Bridges Walk

Former international opera star Kathryn Harries first had the idea for a walk in 2006, the year she became a CRY Patron. Then, on 7th July 2007, she completed a 32-mile walk along the Thames path, heading across all of the bridges from Hampton Court to Tower Bridge on her way.

A week later on July 15th, Kathryn was joined by over 400 CRY supporters from all over the UK for another walk. This time, they walked for eight kilometres across eight bridges from Westminster to Tower Bridge. The eight bridges on the route signified the eight apparently fit and healthy young people dying every week from undiagnosed heart conditions, which was believed to be the figure at the time. (Now, of course, as CRY research has shown that this weekly figure is 12, the routes for the walk have expanded.)

This 2007 event became the first annual CRY Heart of London Bridges Walk. Without Kathryn’s initial idea, passion and involvement, it might not have begun – we will always be grateful for her support with this event.

<em>Supporters gathered for CRYs 2007 Heart of London Bridges Walk<em>

“I’d read about fit, young people dying without warning because of an undiagnosed heart condition – and as a mother of two, I couldn’t begin to imagine the terrible grief of those youngsters’ families,” Kathryn said at the time. “It didn’t occur to me that I could do anything to help – until I heard about CRY, the fantastically energetic charity whose aim is to make screening for heart conditions available for all young people. Our children are our future and I want to do anything I can to help stop yet more parents and siblings have to go through this shocking bereavement.”

In the years since, this has become CRY’s flagship event and the main occasion on our calendar each year. The number of walkers we’ve had attending has continued to increase, and as a result the route and the event as a whole have continued to develop.

In the second year of the walk in 2008, Kathryn returned to lead our walkers again on a new route that started at Victoria Embankment Gardens and finished at Hays Galleria near London Bridge. Over 600 CRY supporters took part, and again, the route crossed a total of eight bridges.

The walk, and Kathryn’s support, continued. In 2013, we had a record-breaking year. For the first time ever we surpassed 1,000 walkers, with over 1,200 people taking part. This also included an increase in the number of walkers participating in support of a young person diagnosed with a cardiac condition.

“I think it’s fantastic that an idea I had when I met the people at CRY back in 2006 turned into this annual event, which is a flagship event for this most magnificent charity,” Kathryn said to open her speech before the 2018 Heart of London Bridges Walk. “I think you’re all remarkable,” she added when addressing CRY’s supporters. “I think you’re incredibly brave, seriously courageous people, and it’s a privilege to be involved with it.”

<em>Supporters at the start line of the 2018 CRY Heart of London Bridges Walk with Kathryn Harries fourth from left<em>

For 2019, along with a new 5.5-mile route passing many of London’s most iconic landmarks, we introduced another new element to the event. After the walk, we held the first CRY Family Picnic at the new start and finish venue of Southwark Park. Music was provided at the band stand by several choirs, a variety of food was on offer, and games were available for families and their children to enjoy. With 1,574 walkers gathering to take part, this was the latest reminder of how important this event is, and how increasingly far-reaching CRY has become.

The Heart of London Bridges Walk is a special, emotional day event year. It’s been amazing to see the event grow, and more and more supporters come together to raise awareness and walk in memory or support of young people. We are so grateful to everyone who has attended or supported the event in any way since it began, and we want to continue the event as best as we can this year through the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Sunday June 28th, we will be holding a Virtual Heart of London Bridges Walk. This will include speeches, a two-minute silence, virtual walk ideas (such as walking the distance of the original route, and alternative suggestions like taking time out to be with your thoughts or completing some of the games that would have been available on the day), and a digital message wall on the CRY website.

CRY’s Chief Executive Dr Steven Cox on this year’s event: “CRY’s Heart of London Bridges Walk is our most important event in the year in terms of bringing families and friends together from all over the UK to remember the person who meant so much to them and who died so suddenly. But, like so many charities across the UK, we are facing the prospect of having to cancel many of our fundraising and awareness events – including this, our flagship event – due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This will of course have a significant impact on our fundraising potential and our ability to facilitate families coming together – but thanks to technology and the creativity of our team, we are delighted to be able to bring the event to our supporters in the safety of their own homes. ‘CRY families’ are amazingly committed to the cause and we know they will embrace this new, virtual day of ‘connecting and remembering’ and fundraising if they are in a position to do so. Hopefully, we will all be back, walking together next year – with perhaps even more supporters from further afield who will decide to continue joining us remotely.”

To find out more about this year’s event and how you can get involved, visit https://www.c-r-y.org.uk/heart-of-london-bridges-walk/.