York’s homeless to act as walking guides

Bec Horner

Bec Horner

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York’s homeless to act as walking guides

Social Vision caught up with Kenny Lieske of Good Organisation to find out more about that great poster that has recently gone viral and the new guided tours by the homeless in York.  He wrote us this guest blog:

Good Organisation (Social Ventures) CIC is a social enterprise based in York that seeks to enable local disadvantaged people to share in the economic benefits of the city’s thriving tourism sector.

York is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations and the number of people visiting the city each year now exceeds 7 million contributing in excess of £600 million to the local economy.

Over the past 5 years, the number of tourists has increased by 6%, mainly comprising of single day-visitors looking for convenient ways to explore the city. Late last year Good Organisation launched a project called Invisible (York) which is currently training and supporting people affected by homelessness to act as walking tour guides. (Read about this here)

All of the participants have been referred from a broad range of local voluntary groups, and the organisation has been working with tourism partners and others to train those individuals to a high standard and provide experiential learning opportunities.

Rather then simply offering up a preconfigured script, each tour is based on the participants own interests and personal experience of the city whilst homeless, and the guides are currently working alongside volunteer mentors to research, script and practise their work.

These will be formally offered as a public service on 3rd June 2019 with five tours in the pipeline covering topics that relate to York’s railway heritage, an exploration of our famous snickleways and alleyways, together with the city’s first ever family friendly fun tour designed to educate children about our rich history and diverse local heritage.

In addition to the ongoing practical development support and employment opportunities for those involved, the project also aims to highlight the problem of homelessness and while the number of rough sleepers in York has recently fallen, this decrease needs to be seen within a broader context.

Figures released by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government indicate that those sleeping on the streets of the city had risen by 61% in the proceeding year, which was three times above the Yorkshire and Humber average, and shockingly, a quarter of all the homeless people who died in the region in 2017, died in York, equating to 11 deaths in a single year.

The project name in itself also fittingly reflects the feeling of invisibility that many homeless people feel. It’s often easy to simply walk past homeless people without acknowledging their existence, and that denial is problematic because it leads to a sense of indifference or a feeling that the issue can simply be ignored.

However, homelessness is really complex and rough sleeping is often just the tip of the iceberg…there are also those who live in precarious financial circumstances or are sofa-surfing with friends who are also invisible in many respects.

Invisible York was started with a small kickstarter grant from Joseph Rowntree Foundation (York Committee) and has already exceeded our expectations.

We recently launched a poster campaign to publicise the project and highlight the issue of homelessness, and the placement of those clearly captured the public imagination, with the images quickly going viral and attracting interest from around the world.

For any organisation working in the tourism sector, reaching a global audience is priceless, so we’ve been really pleased by its success. All the public comments have been overwhelmingly supportive while obviously contributing to a wider public debate on the issue, and we’ve had people from all over Europe, the USA and Australia getting in touch to find out about the tours being offered.

We’ve also had great support locally too, with tourism and heritage organisations getting behind our work, and even a local rugby team New Earswick All Blacks raising awareness of the project. The rugby squad will be sleeping out on Saturday 13th April to generate funds to provide further training opportunities and you can sponsor their efforts at https://www.gofundme.com/neab-sleep-out-for-homelessness-awareness

More information about the project can be obtained via our website at http://www.goodorganisation.co.uk or stay up to date with our progress through social media – www.twitter.com/GoodOrgCIC or www.facebook.com/GoodOrgCIC

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