How city tours can help tackle homelessness

.An Invisible Cities tour in Edinburgh. Image: Luke Bennett.

We love local recommendations about city destinations; that secretive cafe hidden down an alleyway, or a stunning park a stones throw away from the city centre. Tours run by locals allow us to see a city through the eyes of those who live and breathe it.  

This is the philosophy of Invisible Cities, a social enterprise that trains homeless people to become walking tour guides. It believes that those who have spent the most time on a city’s streets are the best people to tell its stories.

By providing mentoring and training with professional guides and storytellers, workshops on public speaking and first aid, Invisible Cities is helping people to get back on their feet.

In York, the training process for Invisible Cities is in full swing. Tours on a variety of subjects, including the city’s railway heritage and its famous snickelways and alleyways, are set to begin in June. Here tour guides practice with volunteers and make use of individual mentors helping them to research their tours.

In addition to providing homeless people with employment, Invisible Cities also invest in projects designed to help the wider homeless community. The organisation delivered Christmas presents to 150 homeless people in Scotland in 2018, and has also donated to the Street Barber in Edinburgh, which provides free haircuts and shaves to homeless men.

An Invisible Cities tour in Edinburgh. Image: Luke Bennett.

Paul is one of the beneficiaries of Invisible Cities. His Edinburgh-based tour, Leith: The Trainspotting Generation has been running since January 2018. “Doing the research for my tours was amazing – and has piqued an interest in gaining full-time employment in this field… I have recently attended interviews with eight production companies, including the BBC.” After talking with a representative from Edinburgh City of Literature, a UNESCO trust, Paul has decided to write a book. 

Invisible Cities tours also provide an indication of places in the UK that have high numbers of homeless people. In York, figures released by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government revealed that the number of homeless people living on the streets rose by 61 per cent in 2018, three times the average for the Yorkshire and Humber area.

Kenny Lieske, director of Good Organisation, an Invisible Cities partner in York, explained that “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, which is one of the reasons we were so keen to team up with Invisible Cities to launch a practical project to support local homeless people.”

York’s high homelessness figures sit in stark contrast to its booming tourism industry. Over seven million people visit the city each year, with tourism contributing £600 million annually to its local economy.

Cities including Oxford, Bristol and Cardiff have registered interest in the project, and the organisation has plans to launch in a city outside of the UK in the next few years. As the UK witnesses rising levels of homelessness, Invisible Cities is providing a unique model to tackle an increasingly common urban crisis.


Five ways the UK can prepare for its next heatwave

Brighton, 2014. Image: Getty.

The 2018 summer heatwave in the UK broke records – and it won’t be the last spell of such severe heat. In fact, climate change means that hot summers which would once occur twice a century may soon occur twice a decade. As the population grows and ages, this will lead to more premature heat-related deaths and place extra strain on physical and mental health services.

Previous research on resilience to heatwaves, such as last year’s report by parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee, a cross-party group of MPs, has focused predominantly on policy, regulation and infrastructure. Such research barely addresses behavioural or social responses that occur during hot weather events and how these can contribute to building resilience.

This is what my own work looks at. In a new book I explore these ideas and assessed how to improve resilience to climate change through communication, collaboration and co-production. So what can the UK do to be better prepared for heatwaves in future?

1. Remember that heatwaves are a serious threat

People must be trained to think more carefully about their vulnerabilities and responses to hot weather. Everyone’s experience of hot weather varies, and this is often associated with positive memories of past summers where they’d enjoy the heat, venture outside and make the most of a potentially short-lived summer.

But this often leads to people being more exposed to the effects of the sun, which affects their health and productivity and puts extra strain on hospitals. Hot temperatures also cause roads to melt and train track to buckle, resulting in delays. As hot weather becomes more common, people need to bear these things in mind.

2. Factor in behavioural change

While appropriate regulation and policies are important, they must represent how people respond to heatwaves and how their experiences affect their behaviour. This can be incorporated into broader thinking around other topics.

Buildings, for instance, can be insulated to stay warm in the winter yet cool in the summer, but we need to better understand how people behave in buildings during those periods to ensure appropriate use.

And working practices can be adjusted so people can work outside periods of intense heat. People rarely want to stay at home all day, so more water fountains should be provided in public places.

3. Get better at talking about hot weather

British people famously love talking about the weather. But they still need to get better at talking about heatwaves specifically, and how they can become more resilient to them. That means things like sharing whether they’re feeling the load of the hot weather or sharing ways to stay cool.

Better communication will also help people understand who’s doing what during a hot weather event (for example, emergency services under extra strain, or bus and train drivers working in tough conditions).

4. Learn from the neighbours

Learn from other others. Mediterranean countries, for instance, are used to the hot weather and people there have adopted simple practices to help them cope with the stress: closing shutters during the hot weather, avoiding being outside or on the beach during peak heat temperatures, painting buildings white, staying hydrated and avoiding strenuous activities during hot weather. Countries in northern Europe that are just getting used to severe heatwaves could adopt these practices.

5. Invest in resilience and communication

Investment should be pro-active, rather than reactive. That means working closely with scientists to anticipate the risks from heatwaves, getting a better understanding of our vulnerabilities and the potential measures we can take. Ensure buildings (especially hospitals and care homes) and infrastructure are better prepared to withstand hot weather events and that regulation is updated to better reflect this, without which the number of heatwave-related deaths would increase.

The Conversation

Candice Howarth, Senior Lecturer in Sustainability and Climate Change Communication, University of Surrey.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.