Ever felt frustrated by the fact that there are twice as many statues of dogs as there are of influential women in Edinburgh? Or wondered about its darker underbelly history of murders and gangs? Or how the “Trainspotting” generation inhabit the city, beyond the pages of Irvine Welsh? Not only do Invisible Cities guides offer tours of Edinburgh with a thematic difference, but these individuals have experienced the capital in ways that many of us cannot even begin to comprehend.
I caught up with Zakia Moulaoui, the entrepreneur and social justice warrior behind Invisible Cities. Invisible Cities is an organisation founded in Edinburgh which helps people affected by homelessness by training them to conduct their own walking tours with a personal twist.
We don’t believe in stereotypes and know that everyone has skills to offer no matter where they come from.
Rachel: What are the main principles behind Invisible Cities, and what do you represent?
Zakia: Invisible Cities is a social enterprise that trains people who have been affected by homelessness to become walking tour guides of their own city. We don’t believe in stereotypes and know that everyone has skills to offer no matter where they come from. We offer an opportunity to develop skills and confidence that can be used anywhere. Our alternative tours showcase a more personal and social side of the cities we are in.
R: How did the idea originally come to you?
Z: I used to work at the Homeless World Cup Foundation where I was lucky to travel the world and see what was used/done in various countries to support people who were homeless, in orphanages, prison, etc. I also found out more about the work of street papers like the Big Issue in the UK. During a visit to Greece, the street paper there Shedia offered you walking tours of Athens, which I LOVED. I quickly realised Edinburgh would be a good place to organise the same and approached people such as they Big Issue but I realised no one had time/resources. This is when it became an enterprise in its own right.
R: Would you describe Invisible Cities as a political organisation?
Z: No – I would say we are a social organisation. Our biggest asset is our guides and we work on creating relationships between people – our travellers and our guides/volunteers. We provide an environment that is 100% positive where you can thrive.
R: How do you find prospective tour guides?
Z: We do not recruit rough sleepers. I think it is not fair to enrol someone into training and organise tours for people who are struggling day in and day out, wondering where they will sleep and what they will eat. Our door is always opened but we will guide people and follow them through finding a bit more stability and they can join our next training round.We recruit through other organisations who will put people forward. Its either people who they are supporting, or have previously worked with. We organise training for all our guides which is usually split between classroom type work: sessions on public speaking, self confidence, customer service and more practical work with volunteers and professional guides who will help build our guides’ tours, from mapping out the routes to planning their scripts.
R: Invisible tours are thematically based. How does this differentiate your organisation from the masses of walking tours in Edinburgh?
Z: The themes have been chosen by our guides themselves. It focuses on what they want to show or what they think makes a city what it is. It means if you come on three tours with us you will get three different experiences. It makes us different because we focus on the person: what does the guide have to say and what connection will you make with him/her during your tour.
Whatever our guides come up with – if they are passionate about something, you know it will work out.
R: What thematic tours would you like to run in the future?
Z: We are actually launching two new tours in the coming weeks: Graveyards of Edinburgh, outlining the histories of famous people buried in them, and also how they are unfortunately used as shelter sometimes. We also have another women-of- Edinburgh based tour. Whatever our guides come up with – if they are passionate about something, you know it will work out.
A quick and easy way for readers to support Invisible Cities is to donate via their crowdfunding page. Otherwise, if you’re visiting Edinburgh as a tourist, or a resident who fancies a unique perspective of the cobbled streets you’ve walked on a thousand times over, book a tour here.Invisible Cities are soon to be expanding to Glasgow and Manchester, as well.