homeless tour guide london, Pete

Pete on Life as an Unseen Tours Guide

I am often asked about how I first became involved with Unseen Tours and my answer is pretty peculiar. While I was homeless and squatting around the Brick Lane area, I had a job selling hats every weekend on Brick Lane market. All the time there would be groups of people going up and down the Lane on various tours. Jack the Ripper, street art, architecture, amongst others. I listened to what the tour guides had to say and thought “I can do that”! 

But what subject matter should I choose? I read some books at the local library and looked at some websites about the area. I discovered what a rich history the area had and I thought, “I’ll incorporate the lot”. 

I wrote a tour and invited some friends on it to practice and get feedback. They loved it, though the main feedback I received was that 3 hours was too long! I shortened it to 2 hours and it received much better feedback. I then advertised on “Gumtree” (remember that site?) and in over 2 months I had not one booking! Then a friend of mine did an internet search for tour companies and one stood out: Unseen Tours. I emailed them and it took me 3 months to re-organise the tour and rehearse it with volunteers and other guides until I was ready to “go live”… The rest is history (in the making).

I had no idea what to expect though! My first “live” booking was for a group of 16 people and on my way to the meeting point I had to have 3 cups of tea to calm down! Once I got there and everyone introduced themselves I switched into “work mode”. I think this is important because not only have people paid to be with you, but you are in control of their experiences for the next couple of hours. 

This would be one of my tips for anyone who has experienced homelessness who is thinking of becoming an Unseen tour guide. In a way, it’s similar to being a teacher (which I have considered training for in the past).

Another question I am often asked is “Why did you want to become a tour guide?” This question is a bit trickier to answer as the obvious reply would be “because of the cash”. This is, of course, at least partially true, but the full answer is slightly more personal than that. It’s about recognising your skills, for instance, putting your point across in a relevant manner, and using the knowledge you’ve gained in life to put these points across to people from different backgrounds and beliefs. This background knowledge can then contribute to a person’s well-being and confidence.

Last October I “celebrated” the 5th anniversary of my tour “going live”. I’ve experienced many things in those 5 years. Looking back, I’ve realised that one skill I possess is to “teach” people, though this job also “teaches” me. I learnt that to put my points across I must take other people’s opinions and feelings into account. I deal with some “tricky” subjects like homelessness, religion and political allegiances, and I’ve had to learn how to talk about these issues with a little more tact and rather than “preach”. I’d rather now start a conversation about these subjects.

Unseen Tours currently run five tours in different areas and we are looking to expand and get more homeless or vulnerably housed tour guides on board. What would be my advice to prospective tour guides? Well, it’s quite a complicated job because of the points I’ve made above, though there are a few basic skills involved. 

  1. Firstly, do your research. It seems like obvious advice, but this is the basis of your tour. Think about what interests you, although, also think about if it would interest others, after all they are paying their hard earned cash to be with you. 
  2. Secondly, use your own lived experiences and put the subjects across in non-judgmental ways. As I mentioned earlier, it is very important to consider other people’s feelings about what you are putting across to them. 
  3. Thirdly, when appropriate use humour to negate the negativity in the subjects you discuss. Introduce some levity in between the serious subjects you talk about. On my tour I talk about street art in depth, and this helps to alleviate stress in yourself and your customers whilst giving time to let the seriousness sink in and therefore relieving that stress. 
  4. Most importantly, relax and be yourself! If you are passionate about your subject matter, your customers are more likely to have fun and go away from your tour with positivity and a deeper knowledge of the points you’ve put across for the last couple of hours! 


If you’d like to talk more about joining the Unseen Tours guiding team, please don’t hesitate to reach out.