The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Invisible Manchester with Alice Sparks

With 3,000 people are sleeping rough in Manchester, Alice Sparks is opening up the dialogue of the homelessness problem by creating jobs and thus giving a voice to those worse affected

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As I’m sure most of us are aware, the homelessness issue in Manchester is one in dire need of attention. According to Street Support, over 3,000 people are sleeping rough in Manchester, a reflection of the 900 per cent increase in homelessness since 2010.

Manchester is a city that I love dearly, but I distinctly remember how affected I was by the visibility of the homelessness problem when I moved here for the first time. It is fair to say that, when confronted with this problem on our daily commutes, the popular public reaction is to look firmly ahead, look busy, and walk on by.

Besides, we have a really important meeting to get to. The now familiar pang of guilt is subsequently followed by an inevitable sense of helplessness. After all, what can we really do? Surely we can’t tackle such a deep systemic issue all on our own?

One woman who is refusing to ignore this problem any longer is 20-year-old student, Alice Sparks. Following a visit to Edinburgh in early September, Sparks came across a local charity named Invisible Edinburgh. The organisation set up tours of the beautiful city and employed the city’s homeless population to be the tour guides. Upon returning to Manchester, Sparks searched for a Mancunian equivalent. When this research proved fruitless, she took it upon herself to begin one – Invisible Manchester.

The process began with her contacting Zakia Moulaoui, the founder of Invisible Edinburgh. In the months that have ensued, they have been in constant contact, working towards the start-up of the Manchester branch. She has visited the Booth Centre, a day-centre that offers advice and support for Manchester’s homeless, and is working with them to find the perfect candidates for the tour guide roles.

The University of Manchester has also offered her £500 of the SALC Student Engagement and Community Fund towards training fees, uniforms and advertisement.

In her own words, Sparks’ main aim is to ‘create a dialogue between the public and the people affected by homelessness. Sharing real stories of homelessness will raise awareness about what it actually means to be homeless and encourage people to look at the streets differently’. Existing beneath our experiences of Manchester is a network of adversity and suffering. We can ignore it no longer. Sparks’ goal is to give the power of exposing this inequality into the hands of those worse affected.

Training for the tour guide roles is set to begin in January of this year with the first tours due to begin in mid-February. Encouraging the homeless themselves to lead the tours will, she hopes, lead to a ‘build in self-confidence, knowledge, and proficiency for public speaking’. The charity’s main aim is to work towards ‘active opportunities’ for the guides, giving education and employable skills.

At no other time of year is it harder to be homeless than these winter months. The issue deserves everyone’s attention now more than ever. If you wish to help Sparks in her efforts to make the severity of this problem more visible, contact her at manchester@invisible-cities.org.

Otherwise, keep an eye out for Sparks and the first Invisible Manchester tours in the coming weeks!