A fascinating social enterprise is aiming to change perceptions of homelessness by showing UK cities through the eyes of people who have lived on their streets.
Invisible Cities trains people who have experienced homelessness to become walking tour guides of their own areas – enabling them to build confidence whilst developing public speaking and customer service skills.
Tours run in a variety of UK cities – including right here in Manchester.
The guides can choose whatever topic they would like to cover, and tours range from explorations of powerful Mancunian women to revisiting spots where the guides experienced homelessness.
Andy’s tour ‘Ales and Alleyways’, for example, takes attendees through Manchester’s nightlife, following the same route of his nights out in the ’80s whilst also detailing the history of the city’s oldest pubs.
Highlights of the tour include the amazing story of how the medieval shambles boozers were moved piece by piece to a new location in 1998.
Andy – who is from Wigan but calls himself an ‘adopted Mancunian’ – became homeless in 2013 after splitting up with his ex-wife.
Unemployed at the time, he was unable to find a guarantor and had to sleep in a friend’s garage for three months until the stewards at the church he used to attend stepped in to help.
He now has a flat in Wigan, which he says he is never going to give up.
“They’ll have to prize me out of there in a coffin,” he joked.
Andy explained to The Manc that invisible cities were at first skeptical about letting him do a tour about pubs because of the negative stereotypes associated with homelessness and alcoholism.
“I told them that not everyone who is homeless has an alcohol or drugs problem and I’ve never had an alcohol or drugs problem,” he clarified.
Andy was eventually allowed to cover his chosen subject as long as the tour followed Invisible Cities’ guidelines that no alcohol or drugs should be consumed while the tour is taking place.
He has dubbed his tour a ‘sober bar crawl’.
Andy was introduced to Invisible Cities through StreetWise Opera, a performance group for people who have experienced homelessness.
“The regional coordinator of Street Wise somehow thought I was sensible enough to do it,” he chuckled.
Andy joined Invisible Cities in February 2020 but unfortunately, due to the pandemic was unable to do his first tour until September of that year.
He is excited for the tours to become busier after social distancing ends but his only hesitancy is that out-of-town tourists may be unable to understand his thick Wigan accent.
Invisible Cities Manchester’s Community engagement manager Millie told The Manc: “Our main aim is to integrate these people back into a society that they feel that they’ve lost trust in.
“Also, a huge aim of ours is just to break down negative stereotypes surrounding homelessness, and by coming on one of our tours, that kind of stereotype is burned down.”
To find out more about Invisible Cities Manchester, or to book on Andy’s or any of the other tour guides’ tours visit the Invisible Cities website.