A project tackling Manchester’s homelessness problem in a unique way has launched a new initiative aimed at uncovering the city’s hidden neighbourhoods.
Invisible Cities is a social enterprise offering walking tours of Manchester led by those who have been affected by homelessness.
The scheme has been running since 2018 – and is now expanding into neighbourhoods outside of the city centre, starting with Fallowfield.
Invisible Neighbourhoods will allow tourists and residents alike to discover the hidden gems and fascinating stories hiding in the south Manchester suburb.
Founder and CEO of Invisible Cities Zakia Moulaoui Guery said that the idea for the Invisible Neighbourhoods project came during lockdown.
“We realised, especially during lockdown, that there was a lot of eagerness from people to discover the places where they lived and where they were, and not just the city centre of our cities,” she told Mancunian Matters.
“That was very much the beginning of Invisible Neighbourhoods, to highlight different neighbourhoods that are usually missed by other tour guides or companies because these are more residential places or places where we may not go.”
The group chose Fallowfield as their first Manchester neighbourhood because it is the home of one of their first tour guides, Danny, who currently leads his own tour called ‘Off the Cobbles with Danny’.
He is also a published poet thanks to the project – visitors can buy his book from the Invisible Cities store online.
On the Fallowfield tour, visitors can expect to discover unusual and unknown parts of the area, learn new facts about the suburb, and get a new appreciation for a space they may already know well.
Fallowfield may feel like an unusual choice for some – but that’s why it’s perfect for the scheme, Moulaoui Guery explained: “I really love the fact that it doesn’t have to be an obvious choice.
“It could be anywhere, because places have so much to offer anyway no matter where they are or what they are or how much is going on there.”
Invisible Cities currently run four walking tours in Manchester, each led by a different guide who has been affected by homelessness.
The scheme allows guides to gain new skills and earn money, whilst helping to break down the stigma surrounding homelessness.
It acts as a springboard for guides to move onto other jobs – the skills they gain are transferable, and can help them find employment elsewhere.
“We want to provide an opportunity for people to learn, and also to feel like they belong in a city, which often is not quite the case when you’ve experienced street homelessness – you might feel like you’re not very much a part of your own city.
“We want to shift that and make people realise that they do belong, so we help with accessing heritage sites, venues and culture, but also bringing skills and opportunities to people.
“They also get employed, get more financial stability and with that comes better mental health, but the idea is to use it as a stepping stone towards other things.”
Moulaoui Guery said that many visitors leave the tours having learned something new about homelessness and social issues in the city, helping to reduce some of the stigma that homeless people face.
The project is going from strength to strength across the UK – it already exists in Glasgow, Manchester, Edinburgh, York, and Liverpool, and is set to launch in Cardiff next year.
Meanwhile in Manchester, Moulaoui Guery said they are working on making their current projects “stronger and more sustainable” for the future.