308 - Homeless Tours

Quem melhor para conhecer os cantinhos mais secretos de uma cidade e as histórias por trás de vários lugares, senão quem vive nas ruas? Em Londres, um grupo de voluntários treina os sem-teto a trabalharem como guias turísticos, e assim os Unseen Tours já viraram um verdadeiro sucesso. Ótimo para conhecer um lado da cidade diferente dos cartões postais, e também para ajudar os menos afortunados.
by Linda Ligios



If you want to discover London there’s a whole range of walking tours on offer. But surely few can be more original than Unseen Tours, which use homeless people as guides. The tours were set up in August 2010 by an organisation called Sock Mob Events, whose Lidija Mavra (below left) explains how they work:

Lidija Mavra (Standard British accent)

Lidija MavraUnseen Tours are different because they show you {tip text=" fora do circuito turístico (usual)" title=" off-the-beaten-track"} off-the-beaten-track {/tip} parts of the city, but also through the eyes of someone that you might not expect. That’s the main difference, really. So you get the history and the culture, like you would on any tour, but {tip text=" a novidade " title=" the twist"} the twist {/tip} is that you’re seeing all these things through the eyes of a person who maybe has a very different reality to a lot of us. So {tip text=" não se trata de indicar" title=" it’s not a case of pointing out"} it’s not a case of pointing out {/tip} where homeless people live, but it’s seeing the city as it is, but through someone else’s eyes. And the guides, they have some very interesting stories about street life and also wider social {tip text=" questões" title=" issues "} issues {/tip}. They’re very good at debating and {tip title=" challenging "} challenging : desafiar{/tip} people’s thinking about wider social issues that affect all of us, not just homelessness. So it’s a really interesting mix on the tour: you get the history, culture, social issues, but also a lot of fun and entertainment ‘cause the guides are very good at making people laugh and {tip text=" criar vínculo" title=" building up rapport "} building up rapport {/tip}, so it’s a very personal tour as well.

We then asked her about the individual "Unseen Tours":

Lidija Mavra

They’re all very diff erent: some of them are in more maybe tourist central areas, like Covent Garden or London Bridge. So, if you want to see like some of the famous landmarks of London, but also combine that with a bit of unusual history, then I would recommend Covent Garden or London Bridge. If you want something more Bohemian, a bit more {tip text=" inusitado" title=" on the edge"} on the edge {/tip}, a bit more trendy, then I would recommend Shoreditch and Brick Lane. And those tours also have a deep history of multiculturalism, immigration, and really show you how the city has changed over the years. And then, if you want a tour that shows you some deep contrasts between rich and poor, and how hidden poverty can be in London, then (the) Mayfair tour.

Lidija Mavra

I think a lot of people are quite surprised, initially, because I think a lot of people come wanting to help the homeless, but then they don’t understand they’re going to get a very good professional tour as well. I remember one lady said to me, when we first started, “Very honestly,” she said, “ {tip text=" vim para solidarizar-me " title=" I came along to sympathise"} I came along to sympathise {/tip} and to tolerate, but actually {tip text=" eu fiquei admirada, completamente surpresa " title=" I was blown away "} I was blown away {/tip} by how good the tour is!" And that seems to characterise a lot of people’s reactions, so, yes, very positive!


Now there is a decidedly original way to see London. “Unseen Tours” offer alternative walking tours that are led by homeless guides. The tours are organised by Sock Mob Events, a network of volunteers who work with London’s street people with a view to helping them regain {tip text=" autoconfiança" title=" confidence "} confidence {/tip} and improve their lives.

Breaking The Ice

Sock Mob was the original idea of Lidija Mavra (see interview) and a couple of friends. They wanted to understand more about homelessness and to do something to help street people fight their sense of loneliness and isolati on. Eight years ago Lidija and her friends decided to walk around London once a week and approach homeless people. In order to “break the ice,” they gave them {tip text=" meias" title=" socks "} socks {/tip}. This unusual technique worked and they also started getting homeless people involved in social events like picnics, going to the cinema and bowling. The group grew and it now has over 700 walkers who take part in various events (see: http://www.meetup.com/thesockmob/).

The Next Step

The next step was to find a way to create some {tip text=" renda" title=" income "} income {/tip} for homeless people and help them become more independent. The idea was also to show Londoners and other visitors a different side to the city. And so the walking tours began in August 2010. The following year Sock Mob Events/Unseen Tours were the overall winners of the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards 2011.

What You Get...

Each tour offers {tip text=" vislumbres" title=" glimpses "} glimpses {/tip} of the city as seen through the eyes of the homeless guides, who also share some of their own stories and experiences. A typical tour lasts about an hour and finishes with a trip to a nearby pub or cafe. These tours are extremely interesting for the people who go on them, but what about their original {tip text=" objetivo" title=" aim "} aim {/tip}, which was to help homeless people to get back into society? We asked Lidija Mavra, who told us: “One of our guides was able to find a house, from earning enough money from the tours. Two other guides were able to find part-time work by becoming more confident from doing the tours, to interact with other people, to apply for jobs, and we also helped them with that, and one of our guides at the moment, Liz, who leads the Brick Lane tour (see interview) wants to start her own blog. She wants to go on a journalism course, and so we’re helping her with that and we’re going to publish one of her pieces on our blog.”