What do we do?
Invisible Cities is a global social enterprise that trains people who have experienced homelessness to become walking tour guides of their city #seethingsdifferently
The idea was founded in 2016 in Edinburgh by Zakia Moulaoui after years of working with homelessness on an international scale. We ran tours in Edinburgh for 2 years before expanding to Manchester and Glasgow in 2018. Tours launched in York in 2019 and we are happy to say we will have tours in Cardiff from April 2020.
We provide alternative walking tours of our cities with the aim to raise public awareness of homelessness by breaking down the negative stereotypes of people living on the streets. Our tour guides are given the platform to feel empowered, to tell their story and have their voices heard. Through tour guiding, they earn a small amount of money, gain transferable skills and regain their self-confidence - all of which expand their future horizons. Whilst also changing perceptions of the streets, the tours encourage members of the public to become active participants in their community by volunteering, donating money or actually stopping and talking to a person living on the street.
Invisible Cities is a GLOCAL social enterprise: working at a local level but with a global reach. We can keep small teams in the cities we are in- 5 guides maximum per city- as we want to focus on the quality of support provided and enable guides to be actors in their communities.
Why is Our Work Important?
Our tours are an active and innovative response to the visible homelessness crisis on the streets of the UK. This issue is not confined to the UK, it is a global challenge. According to Habitat for Humanity, at least 150 million people are homeless worldwide.
Charity Street Soccer Scotland, which commissioned the research into the attitude towards homelessness in 2017, found that 41% of those questioned were "fearful" of approaching the homeless.
National statistics capturing the pattern of deaths among rough sleepers and people living in homeless shelters confirm that 50 people died on the streets of Manchester alone in 2018, this is the highest number of deaths of homeless people.
This is reflection of how dehumanised and marginalised people living on the streets are. One of our guides in Edinburgh called Biffy said "When you are homeless you are invisible."
Jesus the Homeless on St.Ann's Square, Manchester. Photo by Emma Boileau.
How do we work?
We support our tour guides by providing in-depth and tailored training in confidence building, public speaking and customer service. We also organise learning days at various cultural institutions and organisations, such as Manchester Art Gallery, Edinburgh World Heritage and many more. These sessions help inspire the tour content. Each tour guide chooses their own theme, and we encourage them to include history of the city, local knowledge, social enterprises and personal stories in their tours. Their tour is entirely their own creation, we support them to the best of their needs to convert their interests and passions into a tour.
Image of Danny's brochure. Each of our tour guides get their own personalised brochure.
Since launching our first public tours in Edinburgh, we have welcomed thousands of customers and run tours nearly every day, rain or shine.
As the tourism sector expands so too does the expectations of the tourist, two main trends have emerged; authentic tourism and sustainable tourism. There is a growing demand for more authentic tourism, people are eager to have a local interaction with the city they are visiting 'off the beaten track'. Sustainable tourism is expanding globally; according to a Booking.com report, 87% of global travellers state that they want to travel in a sustainable manner. Thereby our target customer is the "Conscious Consumer" a traveller who likes to engage in activities that are local, personal and with impact on the ground, wherever they visiting.
We also work with locals in our cities. We encourage them to see their city differently by showing them a different perspective to areas they may have walked by for years. Our main groups include school students and corporate offices on lunch time tours.
Invisible (Edinburgh) Tour.
Our Social Impact
As we are a social enterprise our social mission is embedded in every layer of our work.
We empower our tour guides to have their voice heard. Homelessness destroys people’s self-worth, as they become isolated and invisible having fallen through the cracks of society. We help and support these individuals to rebuild their self-confidence and self-belief through the tour guide training, and then provide them with tours as a platform to build themselves further. The tours create a unique atmosphere in which customers open their eyes a little more and become more attentive to their surroundings. There is something very special about having a group of 10 or 15 customers on a tour listen to every word said by the tour guide with the utmost respect and care. Beyond tour guiding, we provide our guides with the opportunity to access development and employment opportunities beyond tour guiding. We provide support with every aspect of their lives. We have a dedicated and wonderful volunteer to support our guides and offer them a friendly and supportive network.
"If I became a millionaire tomorrow, I still would not doing my Saturday tours." - said Laura, one of our Invisible (Manchester) guides, who started working with us in January 2019.
Changing Perceptions of Homelessness
We challenge the negative stereotypes that exist surrounding homelessness. Homelessness is portrayed as a distant and dehumanised concept to many members of the public, but we aim to emphasise the message that homelessness really can happen to anyone. The tours transform people’s opinions of homelessness, the opportunity to actually talk to someone who has been homeless and recognise that they are just human is invaluable.
100% of our profit is reinvested back into our tour guide development or a social initiative. In Edinburgh we fund a street barbers and a women's pampering night and in Manchester we are supporting Danny, our first tour guide, in publishing a book of his poetry. The book is sold on our online store and at the end of tour, the profits split between us and The Booth Centre. With the more tour guides we have, the more money we make meaning the more projects and impact we can have.
Encouraging Wider Participation in the Community
The tours inspire and motivate our tour customers to volunteer at local homeless organisations, donate money to homeless charities or simply stop and have a conversation with a person living on the street. This allows them to become an active citizen within their community. In the coming months we want to establish a more fluid streamline to make this process more efficient and also start monitoring this pipeline to report further on our impact.
Our reviews, citing the tour as eye-opening and uplifting, are a testament to how the tours have positively impacted people’s knowledge of their city, understanding of homelessness and been an overall success.
"A tour like no other; inspiring and thought-provoking. His story breaks the boundaries of our perspectives on the homeless... at the end of the day, they are humans like the rest of us, and even a quick conversation will make a lot of difference." - Josh, TripAdvisor
"What a fantastic way to spend our Saturday. We learnt so much about our own city, and feel so much more informed about the systems and support in place for those affected by homelessness. - Lucy, Airbnb
"It was incredibly special to listen and watch him give his experiences of the city through his eyes. The poems he performs at significant points of the tour really added a heartfelt and different element to what a city tour captures, I've never experienced one quite like it!" - Ornella, Google Reviews
How do we start Invisible Cities in new locations?
Our tour guides are at the heart of our operations, it is important they are supported locally. We are look for local partners who will lead on establishing Invisible Cities in their location. We will work closely with potential partners to explain how Invisible Cities operates. Once we have agreed we should work together, we will share everything with them; our branding, marketing tools, training content and sales strategies. They will fully be part of the Invisible Cities network!
Our team, including tour guides, staff and volunteers, take pride in being part of the Invisible Cities network. To celebrate, share best practice and most importantly get to know one and other, we organise Invisible Cities Get Togethers in one of our locations. During these events, we work collaboratively on our customer skills, the content of our tours and our ways of operating together.
End of the tour, thank you for your support!
We have attracted media attention from Channel 5 with Esther Rantzen, BBC Stories, Unilad and many more!
BBC Stories: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/stories-43349804/i-was-homeless-on-these-streets-i-m-the-perfect-tour-guide
The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/oct/21/alternative-tour-of-manchester-focuses-on-the-citys-homeless