Being the London geek that I am, I love to find out and hear more about my city in every way possible. Be that through my insatiable thirst for knowledge via both wikipedia, museums and books or my love affair with The London Underground, London has got under my skin and isn’t about to go away any time soon. So when I got the chance to go discover Unseen Tours last year, I was ecstatic.

Run by Sock Mob Events, they are a unique social enterprise that offers walking tours of London led by homeless or formerly homeless guides where the lion’s share of the income goes directly to the guides. With each particular tour, your guide will tell you things about London you didn’t know – they will show you nooks and crannies that you didn’t know existed. And, most importantly, they’ll talk to you about life as a homeless person in that area of London, and it’ll hit you between the eyes like a shovel.

At times I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I was moved. And that was awesome.

Unseen London Walking Tours

The tours themselves go to either Brick Lane, Shoreditch, London Bridge, Camden or Covent Garden, which is where I went for this particular session (but I have since also done the Camden Tour with Mike and for anyone who wants to understand a little of North London’s music history you’d be hard pushed to find a better way to do it). I was pleased about this as I’ve done a couple of Ripper Tours in the past and felt like I’d “done” the East End to death as it were – it was great to have an opportunity to explore another part of London.

Led by the fantastic Viv, we started at Temple, right by where she first slept rough through Embankment, Aldwych, Covent Garden and ending up in calm and peaceful Lincoln’s Inn.

I learnt things about roman baths, Charles Dickens, how Somerset House was built and what the Inns of Court were for – but most importantly, I learn a lot about Viv and about street homelessness in London today.

Want to see London from a different perspective? Go on an @UnseenTours walking tourClick To Tweet

Unseen London Walking Tours

At first, I felt awkward. Like I was intruding. I wondered whether Viv felt like she had to tell her story to make a buck or two, and I couldn’t be live how honest and open she would be with us. Viv encouraged questions, and as she registered the shock on what I thought were our really educated faces, she helped us through that too. Viv told us the story about how she become homeless 10 years ago after a relationship broke up. She’d sofa surfed, and then slept rough on the streets. She had kids, a life, everything – and it shows you that homelessness can really happen to anyone.

We learnt about what those that become homeless have to do to survive – where the best places to sleep rough were, and how Viv protected herself on the streets. How she was invited by others to build a cardboard home under a bridge and lived happily there for sometime. How excellent members of the public would turn up week in, week out with hot food in certain areas, and how you find out where to get fed.

But most of all, Viv made us laugh. Despite everything, Viv was not a victim, and was just honestly telling her story, alongside facts about London – and this is what breaks down the barriers and stereotypes of those that are homeless most of all. At the end of the tour we went to the pub and I got to chat to Viv about The London Underground, and we swapped book recommendations. And I really hoped that our paths would cross again – because she was inspirational.

Unseen London Walking Tours

Sock Mob Events who run Unseen Tours has evolved from the work of The Sock Mob, an informal volunteer network that engages with London’s street people through regular weekly walks, using the ice breaking power of socks and conversation. They want to empower homeless and vulnerably housed individuals to take positive action for their own lives, and do not want to reinforce the many negative assumptions associated with the homeless and homelessness. I think with Unseen Tours, they’ve done this perfectly.

Give it a go – with tickets costing only £12, it’ll be some of the most worthwhile money you’ll spend as either a visitor or resident of London. Best of all Sock Mob events is a social enterprise, which means most of the money they’ll receive from you in payment for our tours goes to the guides, while any profit they make is directly reinvested back into the enterprise.

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London Tourism | London Museums | Visit London | Travel Inspiration

London Tourism | London Museums | Visit London | Travel Inspiration
London Tourism | London Museums | Visit London | Travel Inspiration

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  • Annie Wicker

    Wow. I am so glad that this program Unseen Tours exists. What an interesting way to help empower the homeless and give them a voice. I can only imagine what stories Viv must have told you.

  • TravelwithBIRD

    London always fascinates me and I love to be there. Unfortunately I never made such a tour, especially not “unseen tour”, which seems to be a fantastic experience. I did similar tours in Berlin (where I lived) but I will definitely go on such a tour next time I am in London as well. Nice inspiration, thank you!

  • Stephanie Fox

    I love walking around London, its definitely the best way to see the city and discover new areas. This sounds a very moving tour and a good way to hear about London from a different perspective.

  • Anna

    I always like seeing places that are off the beaten path, even in big cities like London! I’ll definitely have to look into this tour.

  • Pete

    Thanks. I’ve always felt London to be a mean place sometimes. Ungenerous in making space available for the less fortunate so they are forced to hunt out the nooks away from official gaze – and security. The shadow of the monuments and museums and mansions.

  • Taiss Nowrouzi

    wow how amazing that you got to learn so much! Not only about the city and intriguing places, but about the people! I can’t believe she was so open with you and despite her sad story of being in the streets she made you laugh! what a service to provide to open people’s eyes in so many ways and maybe even open their hearts!

  • Danish Akhtar Multani

    I really liked the walking tour. These give you a really close view of the place. these tours are also budget friendly.

  • Hi Sam,
    Thank you for this post! There is a similar project in my home town, Berlin, and I think it is a great opportunity to see homeless people for more than the situation they are in but as people with a story and knowledge and sometimes a wicked sense of humor :-).

    Kind regards & happy continued travels,
    Carola

  • WOW, I’d love to do one of these tours! I lived in London for 3 years, and it is still my favourite city. I can’t believe I haven’t heard of these tours before – what an incredible way to explore the city. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    — Lisa // FjordsAndBeaches.com

  • Young And Undecided

    Wow! They have a company like this in Edinburgh ! What a great way to break down the stigma homelessness seems to have these days!

  • I’d never heard of this before, but as a London resident I feel like it’s something I really want to do – particularly for the inspiring stories. There are definitely perceptions of London’s homeless, and it warms me that something like this exists to show another side to the individuals facing that situation. Thanks so much for sharing!

    Milly
    http://www.mini-adventures.com

  • Crumbs of Rain

    Amazing! I wish I had known about this when I lived in London – a most magnificent city I know by the way. Very nice write-up, I’ll share this on my Facebook group so if not myself, hopefully another travelling Finn will get the chance to participate! ^_^ ***sateenmuruja.com***

  • What an amazing and eye opening project! This would definitely be something I would do next time im in London!

  • There’s a tour like that here in Prague too, though I forgot the name. Looks like a way to explore a whole new part of London (both good and bad). Will definitely take this tour next time I’m there. Thanks for sharing!

  • Brittany Tashe

    So amazing! I hope to visit London very soon 🙂

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