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A new digital audio tour, downloadable from the Geotourist app to visitors’ smartphones, will help them discover how to spend their money positively in Edinburgh whilst exploring the city.

The tour - a digital first - introduces visitors to some of the city’s social enterprises as they take in the iconic sights and tell some of Edinburgh’s lesser-known tales.

The tour has been curated by Invisible Cities, the social enterprise that trains homeless people to be tour guides, and has been produced in partnership with Edinburgh Social Enterprise and Geotourist, the revolutionary mobile platform and app for the world’s stories.

The founder of Invisible Cities, Zakia Moulaoui, said: “The tour is a snapshot of some of the great social enterprise initiatives we have in Edinburgh. It allows people to be inspired by some of the work going on while exploring the city in their own time.”

Starting in the Grassmarket, the tour passes Edinburgh Castle, wanders through Princes Street Gardens, Rose Street and George Street before returning to the Grassmarket. The tour takes people on a journey that features 5 social enterprises and narrates some of the city’s stories along the way. Using GPS technology, the app pinpoints where users are and triggers content as they pass by points of interest.

Zakia said: “We’d be delighted if further social enterprises came forwards and wanted to become part of the tour. There are about 5,600 social enterprises in Edinburgh which collectively contribute 2 billion pounds to the economy, employing over 80,000 people full time.”

Zakia continued, “Scotland is one of the best places in the world to start a social enterprise, from funding to peer support. There is a wide network to help and accompany you along the way.”

The tour so far includes the following social enterprises:

● Social Bite – the sandwich shop supporting homelessness and pay-it-forward scheme

● Hadeel – a Fairtrade craft shop aiming to provide sustainable income for those in need in Gaza

● The Melting Pot – Scotland's Centre for Social Innovation- European pioneers in coworking and incubating people with Good Ideas, and accelerating Coworking globally

● The Homeless World Cup – a soccer tournament in aid of supporting homelessness

● The Grassmarket Community Project which supports vulnerable adults and homeless people, operates a café and even creates a tartan for those that don’t have one.

The tour is of interest to new and returning visitors to the city as well as local residents and those who work or have an interest in the Social Enterprise industry. The tour is free, with listeners able to support the work of Invisible Cities through a ‘Donate Now’ button included on the tour. The Geotourist app itself is free to download from the App Store or Google Play. Visitors are encouraged to visit the social enterprises on the tour and find out more about supporting them via their individual websites.

The Geotourist app is a new publishing space where organisations and individuals can access the technology to reach wider audiences all over the world. Geotourist works with individuals, organisations and brands across 6 continents and is cited as “the future of travel tech” within a Visit Britain Future Trends report.

CEO and Geotourist founder, Shaon Talukder, who created the Geotourist concept said: “We knew that when we first met Zakia that it was a Geotourist objective to promote the wonderful work Invisible Cities is doing. We are delighted to provide the technology to support this project and help to use the city’s stories to help do social good. Geotourist’s reason for being is to tell the human story and projects like this are a particular privilege to give a home to.”

Amongst its awards and accolades, Geotourist is proud to have been awarded ‘Gold’ at the International Tourism Awards at the World Travel Market within the LGBTQ category for a tour in Denver, USA. Working in collaboration with the AARP, the tour tells the story of the history, battles and celebrations of this community. Invisible Cities is the regional winner of the Thistle Award for Innovation in Tourism.

Geotourist is proud to support Invisible Cities by combining storytelling and tourism to help promote social good. The tour offers visitors a way to get to understand the city that they are in beyond the traditional tourism message and offers travellers who champion responsible tourism an opportunity to leave a positive imprint that makes a difference to local lives.

Further collaborations between Invisible Cities are planned to support its growth in cities such as Glasgow, Manchester and York.

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Article originally posted by Kristi Porter on Rank & File

Last year, we welcomed Kristi Porter on one of our Edinburgh Tours. From it, she took valuable lessons for her business and her life and decided to write an article detailing her experience. These are her own words:

Last year, I eagerly checked three destinations off of my bucket list: England, Scotland and Ireland. To be honest, Scotland was on my list because it’s part of my family’s heritage, but unlike England and Ireland, I didn’t actually have a chocked-full itinerary for when my friend and I landed in the wild and windy country. And while I thoroughly enjoyed London and Dublin, it was Edinburgh that caught me off-guard in the best way possible. Before visiting, I didn’t know that Scotland would have the friendliest citizens, the most efficient airport I’d ever step foot in, the best cold medication (being sick while travelling sucks), and quite possibly, the highest affinity for social enterprise in the UK.

More Than a Tour

There are a lot of really remarkable social enterprises doing amazing work in the world, but this idea was one of those that stood out in a lot of ways to me. Simply put, it grabbed my imagination and held it. And I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since touching back down in Atlanta.

One of my favourite aspects of Invisible Cities, the thing that first caught my attention, is the centrepiece of their model, training homeless people to be walking tour guides. It’s so simple and so brilliant.

Who knows the streets better than the homeless? Invisible Cities is utilising the resources they already have at their disposal to make a difference in the lives of those they help, along with their community and the people who take their tours. It’s not a flashy business model. It’s not overly complex. It requires no extraordinary skills. And yet, they are doing extraordinary work.

In fact, it’s the relative simplicity that continues to inspire me in my own business. In a world where “it’s complicated” has become commonplace, getting back to the basics is a breath of fresh air. So, as I reflect on that tour, I’m reminded that, as a startup, learning and holding onto the fundamentals is essential for growing and scaling.

Use What’s Available

I don’t know about you, but I continually get distracted by what I don’t have. If I only had more money, more time, more influence . . . then I can help more nonprofits and social enterprises. I often lose perspective by focusing not on the people I’ve helped and the ways I’ve grown over the last couple of years since starting my business, but the people I haven’t helped and the goals I haven’t met.

Goals are great until they keep you from being grateful and seeing new opportunities.

For Invisible Cities, it’s not about what they don’t have. It starts with their available resources and grows from there. I want to follow in their footsteps. Truthfully, I don’t think this is any different from what the rest of us do, but it was a good reminder for me. I needed to see it in action to bring myself back to a point of gratefulness for what I have and what I’ve already done.

I don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on advertising. I do, however, have amazing clients, generous friends and loving family members. And when they referred new clients to me, I’d send them a gift card as a thank you. But last year, I created a formal program that paid them in cash or free consulting hours for each referral.

One more example to get your wheels turning. I think business coaches are a terrific idea. As a solopreneur, I only know so much and I can only learn so much. Despite that, I still seem to hoard PDF downloads and webinar links like the internet is going to run out of space. But collective knowledge always beats my individual knowledge. So, I found mentors to provide learning shortcuts and created a mastermind of fellow solopreneurs to provide feedback, insight and accountability. Even though I’m an introvert, I know that the greatest resources available to me are relationships. They give to me, and I gratefully give back to them. It serves us all well, and in the end, allows me to serve my clients better, too.

Tell YOUR Story

Invisible Cities not only empowers the homeless to design their tours, but to tell their own stories as well as the city’s. This is another factor that makes their excursions different from any others you’ll find.

It’s not only your “why” that sets you apart. It’s also your “who.” Even if someone else is doing exactly what you’re doing, and even if they managed to rip off your signature process or business model, they still can’t replicate you and your story. Your “who” is as unique as it comes, and your story deserves to be shared.

Remember the show “Behind The Music” on VH1? I’m totally dating myself here, but my best friend and I used to love that show in college. In each episode, they profiled a musician and how they became famous. It didn’t matter who the episode was about, all of them were utterly fascinating! I’ve yet to meet anyone who hasn’t had a great story.

I absolutely need to tell the stories of the people that I’ve helped, but I also have to tell my own story. It’s part of what makes my business remarkable—and the same goes for you.

In listening to our tour guide, talk about her struggles, her triumphs, her past and her future, I came to appreciate my own story more. As much as her tale made her tour unique, my history makes my business different from anyone else’s business. It’s the foundation I’m building my future on, and it’s up to me to share it.

I only had three days in Scotland, and only about half of that time was in Edinburgh, but it had a significant effect on me, my business and my impact. In fact, I can’t wait to return. Until then, I’ll remember the warm people, the cold gusts of wind and the “invisible” people that revealed so much. Come to think of it, maybe Scotland isn’t coming off my bucket list after all.

Thank you Kristi for sharing these words. We are so glad you took so much away from your experience with us.

Want to write about your experience on one of our tours? Email us Here


Danny

By Hannah Vallance (Volunteer Reporter)

It’s been four months since we officially started taking people ‘Off the Cobbles’ in Manchester, and well, what a four months it has been. We’ve been featured in The Guardian, Manchester Evening News, Channel 5 and even been featured multiple times on The BBC. Most importantly, however, Danny, our ex-army veteran who spent four years sleeping rough around the streets of Manchester and Birmingham, has been able to tell his story to hundreds of people, some coming from all four corners of the world.

Aiming to challenge the stigmas of homelessness with his words, Danny is a talented poet. Whilst this talent has taken him to performing at prestigious venues such as Manchester Cathedral and the Albert Hall, it also forms the basis for his self-written tour around the city centre, taking people to the spots where he often slept and spent much of his time when he was homeless.

Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful. And for Danny, it has not only become the medium through which he could translate his personal experiences of both homelessness and post-traumatic stress disorder whilst he was on the streets, but it has also become the channel through which the 63 year old can show visitors the city, from the perspective of those who call it home.

Taking us to the hidden gems of Manchester, we celebrate the city and shine a light on what may often be overlooked. As one of the most valuable means through which Danny rebuilt his life, street art features prominently on the tour, providing a colourful and hopeful backdrop to Danny’s poignant words.

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Indeed, Danny’s tours are truly unique: they are personal, heartfelt, and every so often, challenging to listen to. Lest we forget, changing perceptions of homelessness isn’t an easy task. Yet despite this, Danny’s natural Scouse charm and quick wit prevails, making his stories, albeit difficult at times, accessible to all.

Whilst our goal may be a simple one, our journey to this point hasn’t always been so smooth sailing. Yet Danny’s perseverance, coupled with months of hard work behind the scenes, has produced something bold, innovative, and great. But, we haven’t stopped there.

In addition to the tours, November was a particularly busy month for us. We attended the Greater Manchester Social Enterprise Summit, the first With One Voice International Arts and Homelessness Festival in the World, and our founder, Alice Sparks, was even invited to talk on a panel discussion at the National Social Value Conference, held this year in Manchester.

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Danny even caught some unexpected attention from some members of the conference, with the ex-MP for Salford, Hazel Blears, not only stating her love for Danny’s poems but also inviting Danny home with her (we’ll leave that one to the imagination).

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Jokes aside, the last couple of months have been both incredibly exciting and fast paced. We’ve even been invited to give talks at both Urmston Grammar and Westholme Independent School. Crucially, however, we were able to tell the students of both the work of Invisible Manchester and the importance of challenging perceptions of those who live on the streets.

Another first for us was in December we also travelled to Edinburgh to take part in the first ever Invisible Cities meet up, where all tour guides from Glasgow, Manchester, York and Edinburgh could feedback and help each other. This was an incredible experience - a real embodiment of the friendship and community spirit we at Invisible Cities aim to create.

In our local community, we’ve also received so much generous support. 2018 finished with Danny receiving an extraordinary print from the Manchester based anonymous street artist Mancy, inspired by his words, courage and candid sense of humour. And, for any of you who have joined us on the tour so far, you’ll know it is basically a blueprint, an outline of our route around the city. Importantly, we wouldn’t be able to do any of this without the support and help from our local community, and for that, we are eternally grateful.

That’s great – but what’s in store for the future?

We’re constantly looking at ways that we can expand our initiative to empower more and more people that have been affected by homelessness to tell their story. So, we are starting training with 5 new splendid guides to create new tours about a whole array of themes including food, crime, music and even gardening.

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And, for Danny, the future is only looking brighter and brighter. Keep your eyes peeled for Danny’s own book of poetry gracing the shelves of Manchester very soon.

But most importantly, we want to attract more and more people to experience our tours and learn about what it’s like to live on the streets of Manchester, from the perspective of those who know it best. Our tours run every Saturday at 11am, and Sundays at 2pm. Book your place here.

Alternatively, if your group is larger than 6 people, please contact us to arrange a private tour.

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We hope to see you very soon!
Think you can help spread the message? Contact us here: manchester@invisible-cities.org

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As part of our social impact, we have started the Street Barber (Edinburgh) in the Scottish capital, since the end of 2017. To date, we have given free shaves and haircuts, as well as toiletries and hot drinks to over 80 homeless men.

"Why only men?" we have been asked. So this year we are bringing Sparkle Sisters: an event aimed at homeless women where, with the help of an amazing team of volunteers we bring haircuts, podiatry and bra fitting services, nail treatments as well as free clothes and toiletries.

Our second Sparkle Sisters Event took place on Thursday 24th January at St Columba's Free Church and it was a success: around 20 women felt pampered and taken care of for the day.

Once participant said "My daughter and I felt like princesses!"

Invisible Cities Founder Zakia says: "Our events are all about bringing dignity back to people who need it the most. We felt that with women, we should have more privacy and more space to organise treatments. We are so lucky to have found the incredible team at St Columba's as not only do they provide us with a lovely space, but also amazing volunteers and cakes! The general public has also been wonderful in donating so many items of toiletries and clothing so we could pass them on to women. These events are a real team effort!"

We advertise our Sparkle Sisters Events through various agencies, such as Women's Aid, Social Bite or Grassmarket Community Project so they can let the women they work with know.

If you would like to donate toiletries or anything else for these events contact zakia@invisible-cities.org

Hear it from our Guides

Written on January 20, 2019
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At Invisible Cities, our guides are at the centre of everything we do. So we have asked them to tell us, in their own voice, about their experience: how they first found out about Invisible Cities, what they prefer about their tours or what their goals and dreams are.


Today, we are starting with Paul, our Edinburgh guide. His tour, Leith: The Trainspotting Generation is getting more and more popular. Here is what he says:

"I first became involved with Invisible Cities in January 2018, after successfully completing my Tour Guide training. Right after, I then attended Edinburgh College and launched my own Tour in June last year during the Leith Festival. Since then I have done loads of Tours including working on Boxing Day and I had two Tours on New Year’s Day!

I really enjoyed working for Social Bite last April when we were part of the team that provided the tours in the Social Bite Village. I was also the first tour guide to do a tour in Glasgow on social enterprises and I have also done some social enterprise tours in Edinburgh with our founder and big boss Zakia.

Doing the research for my tours was amazing and has piqued an interest in gaining full time employment in this field and indeed I have recently attended an interview with 8 production companies including the BBC. I also got a full time temporary job as an Executive Chauffeur/ Tour Guide last year and this has given me the confidence to set up my own Tour Guide company in 2019. I am working with Crisis in applying for a Changing Lives Grant to set up my company, and Zakia has also been very supportive in this decision.

At Invisible (Edinburgh) we often receive guests, who tell us about their work, or the training they offer and after talking about writing with Sian from Edinburgh City of Literature, I have decided to write my own book! I have already written 4000 words.

Today, I also hope to become a mentor for one or two guides and help out as much as I can. But my ultimate dream is to become a motivational speaker, a TV / Radio presenter or researcher, as well as doing my tour guide work with Invisible Cities, so watch this space and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, as you can if you apply yourself properly, take responsibility, don’t self sabotage and try not to procrastinate too much! If I can achieve this, then anyone can, my word of the Year is EXUBERANCE, as if you are going to do something, do it with exuberance!"

Interested in booking Paul's tour? You can do it here!

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My word of the Year is EXUBERANCE, as if you are going to do something, do it with exuberance!

Invisible Cities going to York in 2019

Written on October 31, 2018
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We are excited to announce the arrival of our second Invisible Cities location in England, coming to you in 2019.
On Monday 29th October, Invisible (York) officially launched, following a partnership meeting that brought together local homelessness groups, tourism organisations and others interested in supporting our work.

Invisible (York) is being co-ordinated by a newly established Community Interest Company called ‘Good Organisation (Social Ventures)’ CIC, which aims to enable disadvantaged residents share in the economic benefits of the city’s thriving tourism industry

Kenny Lieske, a member of the York based team said, “York is an ideal location for tours run by local people who have experienced homelessness and we’re absolutely delighted to be part of the ever growing Invisible Cities network. The combined number of people visiting the city each year now exceeds 6.9 million, and over the past 5 years, the number of tourists visiting York has increased by 6%, mainly comprising of single day-visitors, with many people looking for ethical and authentic ways to explore the city.”

Invisible (York) has already attracted widespread public interest and has received a small start up grant from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which is a highly respected social policy organisation working to inspire social action and tackle the root causes of poverty.

Invisible (York) trainees will all travel to Edinburgh on December 5th 2018, to get together with all other Invisible Cities guides- in Edinburgh, Manchester and Glasgow. They will go to an Invisible (Edinburgh) tour, will get to know each and will take part in a customer service workshop.
We expect the full training to start in January 2019 and you will be able to book a York tour from April 2019.

If you would like to organise Invisible Cities Tours in your city or for any media related question, contact zakia@invisible-cities.org

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We are absolutely overjoyed to announce we are ready to launch our first Invisible (Manchester) tour with adopted Mancunion guide, Danny! His tour is called "Off the Cobbles" and his aim is to take people on a tour around Manchester so they can relate to homelessness through taking in art and poetry along the way.

An ex-veteran, Danny spent years of his life on the streets. It wasn’t until he came to Manchester that he found the support he needed to get him back on his feet. Nowadays, Danny is a successful poet, performing everywhere from the Albert Hall to the famed Manchester Cathedral. Despite this success, his experience of homelessness, and his passion for the homelessness crisis, permeates everything he does.

Each stop is marked with either a poignant poetry piece, written by Danny, or an anecdote from his time on the streets.

Danny is testament to the positive impacts that art and literature can have on an individual who has been, or still is, homeless. He provides the perfect lens through which to see how arts are improving the mental and emotional health of the homeless population in Manchester. With this in mind, this tour will make you stop and appreciate landmarks as emblematic as Manchester Cathedral down to singular pieces of street art in the Northern Quarter.

Danny's tour will be available on Saturdays at 11am and on Sundays at 2pm. For larger groups (6 people minimum) they can be arranged on request.

Bookings will be available here from October 20th so stay tuned!

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At Invisible (Glasgow) we are currently training local guides to bring you entertaining and high quality tours by the end of 2018!

But in the meantime, the team from Edinburgh travelled through to Glasgow on August 20th to offer a first taste of what those tours would be!

Delegates from the INSP conference (International Network of Street papers) were gathering in Glasgow for their annual meeting and 20 of them took part in our tester tour. Our Edinburgh based guide Paul took the group around a trail of Glasgow social enterprise, also highlighting what we do at Invisible Cities.

Back in 2016, the INSP played an essential role in inspiring and supporting us, so it was great being able to show them one of our tours!

Training for Glasgow is taking part on October 5th 6th and 7th with our first tour available to the public early November!Stay tuned for more information here.

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For general or press enquiries please contact Zakia:

+44 (0) 7500 773 709

zakia@invisible-cities.org