Three Questions on Sustainable Development: Goal 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth

We spoke with Zakia Moulaoui Guery, founder of Invisible Cities, and Alice Sparks who runs their Manchester branch. Invisible Cities, an organization based in the UK, is a social enterprise which strives to empower people who have lived on the streets with tour guide jobs.

1014: Alice, describe the current situation with regard to decent work and economic growth in Manchester. Are people struggling to find work? Why is Invisible Manchester specifically training people who have experienced homelessness?

Alice: In Manchester, one of the richest and most bustling cities in the entire world, many people still struggle to find work. This is especially true for those who have experienced homelessness as their self-worth is often shattered. The purpose of our work is to help them rediscover their self-confidence and gain transferable skillswhich can be applied to expand their future horizons. Our concept is simple - putting them at the centre of attention and having a tour group listen to every word is an invaluable experience. The training we offer is tailored to support each individual in their confidence building, public speaking and customer service. We also partner with cultural institutions to offer training led by their staff and invite our guides into spaces, such as museums, that previously felt unwelcoming. Our tour guides are paid a flat-fee of £20 per tour. As a social enterprise, our funds are reinvested back into tour guide development or events for the wider community in Manchester.

Alice, what are your responsibilities at Invisible Cities Manchester? What motivates you when you go to work in the morning? What frustrates you on occasion?

Alice: When I started Invisible Cities Manchester, my first activity was to build trustworthy relationships with homelessness organisations and co-create a referral system to recruit service users. Now, I manage the team of guides, our small staff and about ten volunteers. I organize training programs, manage communications via social media, set up the logistics for our tour booking and account for the finances. Fridays are my favorite days as we have our training sessions and team meetings at the end of the week. We usually share a few sandwiches, catch up on the week and then head to our training together, be it a public workshop, drama session, or tour of Manchester Art Gallery.  
I am motivated in the morning by watching the guides flourish because of their work. After five months of training in public speaking and drama workshops, Laura, for example, developed a passion and interest in the female history of Manchester. Her tour has become hugely popular and has opened doors for her to pursue her interest in fashion and cosmetics. On occasion, I become frustrated when I think that societies should offer decent work for all, regardless of their background and personal story. It should not be necessary to make homeless people visible and attractive for the job market. Change towards a more compassionate society doesn’t seem to happen fast enough.  

Zakia, the city tours do not only take place in Manchester, but also in Edingburgh, York, Glasgow and Cardiff. As the founder of the Invisible Cities enterprise, what would you wish for these communities and beyond with regard to economic growth and the overall job situation?

Zakia: I wish for the work landscape and communities in our cities generally to be more inclusive and free of prejudice. There are too many people who are still excluded from a lot of opportunities or who really struggle to access what is available out there, either for lack of knowing where to look or lack of having visibility. We should all work towards being better at advertising for everyone and make an extra effort to be as inclusive as possible.


You can find more information on the work of Invisible Cities UK at www.invisible-cities.org

This interview series was originally published on 1014.nyc and translated into German by the Goethe-Institut.

September 2020

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