This is why we love Stories of Support – we first heard about Invisible Cities when we were chatting to Gerard about The Blankfaces. It’s the coolest thing ever, constantly uncovering brilliant initiatives in this sector. It’s passion and innovation and community spirit that all goes towards helping people who really need it.
Invisible Cities is a social enterprise that trains people who have been affected by homelessness to become walking tour guides of their own city and offer these alternative tours to tourists and locals. The idea is to show that everyone has great potential, absolutely reflected in their tour guides. Their training focuses on confidence building, public speaking and customer service. Partnering with professional tour guides to build bespoke tours and practice routes, it’s a really slick operation.
We bought tickets for Steven’s tour a couple of weeks ago and turned up on a muggy Monday evening in Manchester ready to walk. Steven immediately made us laugh and put us at ease. He’s one of those people that just exudes life. That, mixed with his extensive research and his skill for telling stories, made for just about the quickest couple of hours ever.
What was so special about Steven’s tour was how he wove in his own thread of experience through the historical tapestry of Manchester. He took us through Angel Meadows – which today is a beautiful park – and had us equally as captivated by its gruesome history as a mass burial ground as when he recalled how he used to hide there in the long grass from the police when he was a child.
We walked from there into the city centre where Steven showed us where he had his first jobs, where the IRA bombings were, and where the underground market has been sealed up and remained untouched for the last 30 years. Along the way it was clear how close Steven was to the community as a whole, as we bumped into about 15 people that were so happy to see him. There was a lot of love and respect and understanding there, that was clear.
The tour concluded at the bus station where Steven stayed as a child and learned how to read and write from a staff member there. It was especially poignant because with his back to the place he used to sleep he read us an original poem about his experience there in the winter. It was honest and raw and is making my heart hurt even remembering it now. I can’t tell you how much of a privilege it felt to be so warmly invited in to share his personal history. The way his openness and his outlook on life made me feel is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Invisible Cities offers something that nothing else will. Please have a look at their website and the different tours that are running. It’s a really special way to learn about your city, to meet some truly inspirational people and to have your eyes opened to what is so often invisible.