Arts and Culture

The alternative walking tour of Manchester… led by people who have experienced homelessness

People who have experienced homelessness are leading unique walking tours in Manchester.

The tours allow people to discover parts of the city that aren’t featured in mainstream tours and to learn about the often invisible experience of being homeless.

“When you’re homeless, people don’t look at you, they look through you,” said Zakia Moulaoui Guery, founder of social enterprise Invisible Cities which organises the tours.

“We are bringing a voice to people who are invisible so they become visible.”

An Invisible City tour guide in Manchester with “Jesus the Homeless” outside St Ann’s Church (Source: Invisible Cities via Flickr)

Originating in Edinburgh, Invisible Cities puts people who have experienced homelessness at the centre of attention as they lead their own tours.

As well as Manchester, the tours now run in Glasgow, York, and Cardiff. Zakia said that they are planning to train additional guides in Liverpool as well as the Scottish Borders.

However, not everyone who is trained by Invisible Cities will become a tour guide.

Zakia said: “We offer the training to people who have experienced homelessness, no matter what they want to do with it.”

Some people use the programme to develop their confidence, and their public speaking skills or meet other people in a positive learning environment.

The ones who do go on to become tour guides are allowed to create their own routes around the city and handpick the stories that they want to tell.

As a result, each Invisible City tour is unique and includes personal snippets of the guide’s own experience with homelessness throughout.

An Invisible City tour group pictured with the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst in St Peter’s Square (Source: Invisible Cities via Flickr)

One of the Manchester-based tours is run by Andy who focuses on nightlife in the 1980s. The Wigan Athletic fan shares stories of his own nights out in the city, as well as the colourful characters he met along the way.

As with all Invisible Cities tour guides, Andy experienced homelessness. In 2014, he found himself on the streets when he left his ex-wife.

After seeking a range of support, Andy found a house in Wigan, ended up as a volunteer for Manchester Museum and a performer with Streetwise. It was here that he was recommended to train as an Invisible Cities tour guide.

Andy leads his “Ales & Alleyways” tour with a binder of reference images in hand.

As you dodge down alleys and dart along back streets, Andy takes you to pubs you have never noticed before.

The beautifully tiled Peveril of the Peak – one of Andy’s tour stops

You can tell that he has been a tour guide for three years – Andy’s fact recall of Manchester’s past and present including lesser-known historical events such as Peterloo and Little Ireland is astonishing. He is a master of his craft.

As Andy meticulously weaves his stories together, you eventually notice that the stops on his tour have been foreshadowed by the pin badges he was wearing from the very start.

Andy and his pin badges (Source: Invisible Cities via Flickr)

The best way you can support Invisible Cities and their guides, such as Andy, who have experienced homelessness?

“By coming on tours,” said Zakia. “Living in Manchester doesn’t mean that you can’t come on the tours. We 100% will show you things that you didn’t know.”

You can book for Andy’s tour on the Invisible Cities website. Tours in Manchester are also available from Nic and Stephen. Invisible Cities can be found on Instagram and Facebook.

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