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Secret Street Tours

Secret Street Tours – In this article, Shane Adlum interviews Tom Austin who has organised the new Secret Street Tours of Dublin

There are many different ways to see the sights and tourist attractions of Dublin. Any bus, cycle or walking tour will show you the usual historical buildings, statues and parks but there is one tour that will show you another side to the city. Secret Street Tours is a walking tour with a difference. They are a non-profit social enterprise offering a different viewpoint of Dublin. Its your guide on these tours that make them unique, as well as sharing their knowledge of the history and culture of the area they also share their experiences of how they have been affected by homelessness.

“It’s a perspective that you don’t often get to see.” These are the words of Tom Austin, founder of Secret Street Tours who told me all about how he came up with the idea, the good work they do, the guides and of course, the tours themselves.

Whilst on holiday in Vienna, Tom decided to do a homeless walking tour and it really made an impression on him and the rest of the tour group. “We had our perceptions challenged of homelessness and a lot of our views were impacted by that tour.” A conversation with the guide after the tour really left its mark on him. “He just told me how big an impact it had on his life, giving him a real sense of purpose, confidence and importantly removed a lot of the isolation and loneliness he was feeling as part of homelessness. So, I thought if we could just bring that back to Dublin and have that impact for just one person it would be really worthwhile.”

Currently Secret Street Tours operates two tours, The Liberties and Smithfield, and they offer a great blend of history and culture of the area as well as the unique personal history of the tour guide. It’s not all about the area and its history, its not all about homelessness, it’s a balance of the two which makes them different from other walking tours. The tour gives people the chance to interact with a local who has an indebt knowledge of the area as well as offering an opportunity to engage with and break down the barriers around homelessness.

The Dublin Simon Community have played a key role in the development of Secret Street Tours, offering support and helping to choose the guides. It is important that the guides are at the right stage of their journey and are looking to take that final step out of homelessness. It can be a really tough step to take and that’s where Secret Street Tours has really helped, giving them confidence, applicable skills and importantly, an income.

Training is provided for the tour guides, both by Secret Street Tours and various partner organisations who work pro bono. Public speaking is one of the key area’s they must learn about, learning to present to large groups, to present with more confidence and how to tell an effective story. Story telling is a key skill for any tour guide. Guides are also partnered with researchers in Trinity College to learn about the background and history of the area and professional tour guides come and mentor them to help them with the process.

Currently there are two tour guides employed by Secret Street Tours. One thing Tom wants the guides to do is to “take ownership of their story.” He talks about the “very visible change” in the guides and how their confidence has grown from the beginning of their journey to now.  “Homelessness is something we hear every day in the news but we rarely hear about the people affected, they’re as a group spoken about but rarely listened to so this is giving ownership of their story back to the individual and giving them a platform to share their story and I think once they get to a stage where they can see people are willing to listen to them, they want to come and listen to their story, that gives them a lot of confidence and our guides would now be really effective public speakers. They could present to boardrooms, they could go on stage, it’s remarkable and it’s because they’ve thrown themselves into it and they’ve worked really hard.”

The tours themselves attract all sorts of people, not just tourist. Around 80% of bookings are actually from people living in Dublin and the age demographic is widely varied. They’ve had babies and toddlers come along with their parents, teenagers, corporate groups and many retired people looking to learn more about this great city. The tour has something for everyone, from those interested in history and culture, to anyone who just wants to see the sights, to the socially conscience who want to help and give something back to the community.

Tom is already looking to the future, “What we’re really trying to do is let the demand lead the supply and get more and more regular tours for our guides” and he hopes to one day add more guides, increase the number of tours, get larger groups and expand into different areas. Two of the aims of the tours is to raise awareness of homelessness and to change people’s perspectives. According to the Department of Housing there are currently more than 10,000 people currently homeless in Ireland.

If you are interested in booking a tour, they can be booked through their website at https://www.secretstreettours.org/   You can join the tour as an individual or it can be booked for private groups, school tours and corporate groups.

 

 

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