by Linda Ligios
THE STREETS OF LONDON
Lidija Mavra (Standard British accent)
Unseen Tours are different because they show you off-the-beaten-track 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 the twist 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 it’s not a case of pointing out 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 issues . They’re very good at debating and challenging : desafiar 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 building up rapport , so it’s a very personal tour as well.
LONDON (NO AUDIO)
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 socks . 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 income 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 glimpses 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 aim , 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.”