It’s certainly not unusual for me and my youngest girl, Lucie, to head into town on a Sunday morning to grab breakfast or lunch, however, a couple of months ago, we spent our standard Sunday morning in Manchester doing something a little bit different. I’d read about Invisible Cities in a copy of The Simple Things magazine and it caught my attention; I made a note to look into it further and ended up booking two tickets for a local tour.
Invisible Cities is a social enterprise, training those who have been/are affected by homelessness to become city guides offering walking tours to locals and tourists. All funds generated through the tour ticket fees are put straight back into the enterprise and go directly towards supporting tour guides with training and personal projects, so it’s also a great way to contribute towards a worthy cause. Raising awareness around homelessness is something that I’m passionate about, and it’s a social issue that Lucie and I have been actively supporting offline for a long time. I wanted to learn more about my own city through the eyes of someone who had experienced it in a very different light.
Currently covering Edinburgh, Manchester, Glasgow, York and Cardiff, there are several guides in each city offering bespoke walking tours. We met our chosen guide, Danny, on a crisp, unusually dry Autumnal morning near Central Library to begin the ‘Off the Cobbles’ tour. He introduced himself to our small group of four and explained about ensuring that we all stayed COVID-secure by wearing masks, adhering to social distancing, visiting only outdoor locations and sanitising our hands often. We learnt that ‘adopted Mancunian’, Danny, originally hailed from near Liverpool and was a war veteran, having served since he was just 17 yrs old. He left his post more than a decade later with PTSD and found himself street homeless through various complex factors, as is often the case.
Once the introduction was done, Danny shared his first poem with us, about his time in the Forces and living with subsequent PSTD. I was unprepared for how emotive this would be and felt that the poetry helped us, as an audience, to gain a deeper connection and insight into Danny’s journey. His love of poetry was ignited around five years ago through a workshop he attended and in turn, discovered he had a flair for words.
We moved to various locations on our tour, including a few landmarks that I’d never really paid close attention to before, and heard more about Danny’s lived experience as a homeless person in Manchester, accompanied by short poetry verses at each stop. He discussed the importance of showing humanity and compassion, education, integration and challenging outdated stigmas. Though no longer homeless, Danny still does an abundance of volunteer work in the city with faith groups, soup kitchens and local schools and universities, and partakes in awareness events and projects, such as the Manchester Sleepout and Streetwise Opera.
The tour held a good balance of factual, historic information about the city, stark and sobering personal stories and light-hearted, humourous anecdotes. Each of Danny’s honest recollections about his life on the streets – from being brutally attacked by strangers whilst sleeping in the Northern Quarter, leaving him with serious injuries, to having his faith in humanity restored by a single rose and other acts of kindness – made for authentic, engaging and poignant listening. His enthusiasm and professionalism during the thought-provoking two-hour tour made it a pleasure to attend and I look forward to learning more on Invisible Cities tours in other cities once the current COVID restrictions are lifted.