Annabelle Arch from World Travel Market London spent the day on an Unseen Tour around Covent Garden with volunteer director, Jayni Gudka and tour guide Viv, to hear how Unseen Tours work with the homeless and how it benefits the travel industry.
So Jayni, what differentiates and Unseen Tour to another London tour?
So obviously our tours are run by homeless people, so our volunteers spend up to 6-8 months working with each individual guide to tailor their own tour to an area of London that they know best, and it’s their own story, their own experiences of living on the street or being homeless in a part of London.
Where do the Unseen Tours take place in London, and why these specific areas?
So we currently have six tours, we have them in Covent Garden, London Bridge, Camden Town, Shoreditch, Brick Lane and a new one in Soho. We choose these locations because it’s where our guides know best. They’ve either been homeless in these areas before, or they’ve lived in this area and have a special connection with the community there.
What opportunities are you giving to tour guides?
We provide a lot of training for them, depending on what their needs are, so it might be public speaking or confidence building. Showing tourists the parts of London that they know best, really builds their confidence and their storytelling ability.
Viv, what do you like most about what you do?
I like meeting people and I love history. I’ve not stopped looking at history since I started and I’m still looking for unusual stories to put in the tour.
What do you find the most interesting about tourists?
Well the fact that they come from different countries and a lot of them haven’t been to London so you can show them around and show them different parts of London from a local perspective, and you can also give them tips that they don’t know about.
What do people find most surprising about an Unseen Tour?
Well, I think the fact I tell them about homelessness and show them the places where I used to live and how hard it is to be on the streets.
How do you think Unseen Tours changes the perception of homelessness in and around London?
Well unless you tell people about what it’s like to be on the streets how are you supposed to know and each person’s got their own story to tell out there.
Jayni, how do initiatives like this benefit the travel industry?
So I think tourism has had quite a lot of bad press recently, with things like overtourism and local communities not benefiting from tourism and because all of our tours are led by people who are very involved in their own communities in areas that they know well and have been living in for quite a while, it’s a way to bring people to their communities, in a way that communities will benefit from that also.
How do you think Unseen Tours inspires others?
So there are different ways we inspire different people through our tours, we inspire tourists through the way that they think about homelessness and challenge the stereotype, we inspire our tour guides by training them and skilling them up and giving them other opportunities outside of the organisation also.