HOMELESS people in York are now working as tour guides in the city - in a scheme that is also helping them get back on their feet.

The Press reported last year that a new project, Invisible York, was to be launched by local community interest group Good Organisation, which was helping to train homeless people to become walking guides around York.

The concept is based on a similar award-winning project that has been operating in Edinburgh since 2016, which has trained 15 homeless people to become tour guides.

Now, after six months of customer training, first aid, public speaking practice and trial tours, three walking tours are now available to both tourists and residents.

Director of Good Organisation Kenny Lieske said that rather than providing set scripts, the new guides have researched and scripted their own tours with the support of a team of volunteer mentors.

He said: “The final result is that we’re running three tours, where visitors and locals can uncover the city’s long-standing ‘Railway Heritage’, discover ‘The Story of Guy Fawkes’ and participate in York’s first ever ‘Family Fun Tour’, which has been specifically designed to educate children about our rich history and diverse local heritage.

“People don’t need to be living on the streets to be considered homeless. They can be sleeping in tents, staying in their cars, or living in temporary shelters or hostels.

“Unfortunately, because of the stigma still surrounding homelessness, not everyone involved in the project felt comfortable serving in a public facing role, so around half of those that began with us dropped out partway through.

“Those remaining undertook a whole host of training activities to build their confidence and self-esteem.

“I am so proud of them for all the hard work they have put into creating these tours. I hope they are a big success.

“The money earned from paying tourists will be put into development pots.

“It will go towards paying for accommodation, food and clothing and driving lessons, all skills that will help homeless individuals to get back on their feet and hopefully into full-time employment.”

Father of two, Gavin Sullivan, 38, is hosting the ‘Family Friendly Fun Tour’ which is the only tour of the city that has been specifically developed with children in mind.

Gavin, whose struggle with mental health led him to be homeless, draws upon his personal experiences as a former play-worker and teaching assistant to present a unique view of the city.

He said: “I was attending the homeless meal at St Michael le Belfrey one evening and they told me about the Good Organisation.

“They have helped me turn my life around and I have enjoyed the process so much.

“It is very rewarding to give the tours, the first few practice ones have been amazing. Hopefully people enjoy them.”

Meanwhile, Gemma Dean, a transgender woman, found herself sleeping rough and living in hostels following the sudden unexpected death of a close friend.

She is a passionate railway enthusiast and her tour explores how the railways in York has shaped and transformed the city.

Tour guide Vicki interweaves her own personal journey of being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, treatment and remission, with the story of Guy Fawkes.

Beyond a tale of gunpowder, treason and plot, the tour tells the story of Guy Fawkes, from his family history in York to growing up and the influences surrounding him as a Protestant and later as a recusant Catholic.

She said: “I was lost before I found this opportunity.

“I have loved every minute of the training, learning how to breathe properly, avoid panic attacks and projecting my voice to the audience.

“This journey has given me something to live for and the wonderful comments from people who have already witnessed a tour are some of the best compliments I have ever received.”

Mr Lieske added that there are also two further tours in the pipeline, due later this summer.

He said: “Two other tours include an expedition through time to explore York’s Health and Wealth, and a tour of the city’s famous ‘Snickelways’, which are a web of narrow snickets, ginnels, and alleyways that cut through the town centre.”

The tours will run on select days and are available to book at £10 each from via https://invisible-cities.org/cities/york.