Homeless people trained as tour guides in new scheme

Homelessness is an issue at the heart of Edinburgh, and Zakia Moulaoui wanted to give those people less fortunate a chance in life.
Biffy MacKay, centre, is a tour guide for  Invisible Edinburgh Homeless tour guidesBiffy MacKay, centre, is a tour guide for  Invisible Edinburgh Homeless tour guides
Biffy MacKay, centre, is a tour guide for Invisible Edinburgh Homeless tour guides

Throwing out those homeless stereotypes and building people’s skills to help them in future life is what Invisible Edinburgh is all about.

The social enterprise is helping homeless people in the Capital transform their lives by training them to be tour guides.

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Social entrepreneur Zakia, 30, said: “Working with people who are homeless and it is worrying seeing them. There is a big problem in the stereotype of homeless people.

“Most see them as living on the street, being addicts and the doom and gloom surrounding it. The people who I have met and supported are amazing people. They all have a different status but some are more educated and speak more languages than me.

“Giving these people skills is the most important thing that we do.”

Eight people have received the training with three regular contributors, who have been homeless in their life, using their past experience to show Edinburgh in a different light.

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They have seen Edinburgh from many more angles than the average tour guide can offer, be it the famous landmarks or the social enterprises that make the Captial what it is today.

One of those is Biffy MacKay, a former heroin addict who has lived on the streets and turned to crime to fund her habit.

The 29-year-old said: “I also volunteer at Social Bite which is where I met Zakia. As soon as I heard about the project, I was immediately excited about it.

“I lived on the streets here and there and it was a horrible experience. It is soul destroying not having somewhere to call home.

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“I was not in a good place and was taken to court where I was prosecuted for theft. If I’m honest, it was the best thing for me. It was at this point I vowed to change my life for the better.”

In the past year Invisible Edinburgh has put on tours for 1,400 residents and tourists with numbers increasing all the time.

To become a tour guide, the participants must do training with national homeless charity CRISIS around the history of the city, build self confidence and a proficiency in public speaking.

They all pick a topic they are interested in ranging from Powerful Women in Edinburgh to Crimes and Punishment.

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The tours, which can be up to 69 people at a time, take place Wednesday to Saturday each week with the tour guides’ wage going into a development fund.

It also recently hosted its first Street Barber event where a volunteer barber gave haircuts to the homeless.

Zakia gained experience working with the homeless during her time with the Homeless World Cup and Social Bite and has praised those turning their lives around.

Zakia said: “The change of some of our tour guides in a year is incredible. Our job is never done. The people have come a long way and they all want to be a success.

“This is why I love working with them.”

Invisible Edinburgh is currently fundraising in order to support its activities in the lead up to Christmas.

For more information and to donate, click here.

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