Unique London Walking Tours – with a social conscience

Unseen Tours - a unique London walking tour
Unseen Tours - a unique London walking tour

I’ve lived in London in the past, but when you live in or are from a place, you don’t really see it.  That’s why now, whenever I return to the capital, I see it with a fresh perspective and have a better appreciation of it.  I am, in effect, a tourist in the city I used to live in. So when I was offered the chance to explore the capital in a unique way, with a unique London walking tours with Unseen Tours, I jumped at the chance.

Unique London Walking Tours – Unseen Tours

I’d heard about Unseen Tours,

a multi-award winning social enterprise which offers unique London walking tours led by homeless, formerly homeless, and vulnerably housed tour guides.

(Quote taken from their site).  I was intrigued by this concept and also interested to learn that 60% of the tour price goes to the guide.

There are different 90 minute Unseen Tours to choose from:

Each tour costs £12 (yes, you read that correctly, £12!) and you can book online via PayPal or C/cards for the popular ones.  The unique London tours that maybe have less people, it’s possible to just turn up at the meeting point on the day and pay the guide.

Camden Tour – London

This is the tour that interested me.  And so I found myself outside Chalk Farm tube station, waiting for Mike, our tour guide.

Starting point of Unseen Tours - Camden
Starting point of my unique London Walking Tours – Camden

He was there, with his Unseen Tours sign and when our other guest turned up, off we went.

I didn’t know what to expect really: A tour run by a homeless or ex-homeless person, what would that entail?  Well, one thing’s for sure, Unseen Tours make it very clear that this is not a voyeuristic trip to go and visit the homeless areas along the route.  As their site indicates:

Instead, the tours aim to show London’s historical and cultural quirks in an unusual and entertaining way and, where issues of homelessness are covered, to make a point about the state of the world we live in and highlight issues of social injustice.

Our route took us past many of the famous London landmarks in Camden (not in any particular order):

  • Camden Lock and Market
  • Electric Ballroom (famous for impromptu secret gigs by the likes of, say, Prince)
  • Regents Canal
  • The Roundhouse
  • Primrose Hill

All the while, our guide Mike was very engaging and knowledgable, showing us point of interest and giving us information as to his circumstances: Mike now lives in sheltered housing in Camden.   He originally held a senior management position in the City within Facilities Management, but after being made redundant in 2009, he travelled to Vietnam to teach English, hoping to stay there to wait out the recession.  But he was taken ill, lost his job and had to return to the UK.  He returned with nothing.  Being from the Camden area, two charitable organisations helped him and eventually he was put into housing and is getting back onto his feet.

Mike has an eclectic taste in music, and this certainly helped on the Camden tour, he was able to point out the many famous London musical residents in Camden and their ‘jamming’ places.  Oasis and Amy Winehouse, for example, have been (were, in Amy’s case) known to jam in the Marathon late licensed kebab shop.

Marathon kebab shop - Camden. Late licensing sees late night musical sessions from famous people. Unseen Tours
Marathon kebab shop – Camden. Late licensing sees late night musical sessions from famous people, as seen on my unique London walking tour with Unseen Tours

There are other famous London residents in Primrose Hill such as actor Daniel Craig (James Bond), Ed Miliband (Former UK Labour leader, 2014) and areas in this part of London were used for shooting scenes for films, such as Chalcot Square used for a scene in the 2014 Paddington movie. Other stars who frequent and/or live here include Madonna, Jennifer Aniston, Gwenyth Paltrow and Jamie Oliver (UK TV chef).

Chalcot Square - used in filming of "Paddington" - Unseen Tours, Camden
Chalcot Square – used in filming of “Paddington” – Unseen Tours, Camden
Come with me on a unique London walking tour with Unseen Tours
Come with me on a unique London walking tour with Unseen Tours

Primrose Hill

The most famous thing about Primrose Hill is the view from the actual hill itsef.  Alas, on the day of our tour, it was foggy.

But wander into the village itself and you’d be forgiven for forgetting that you’re actually in London.  Known as an ‘island within the city’, apparently the residents have successfully kept out big chains such as McDonalds, Burger King and Tesco’s Supermarket, making it truly feel like an alternative coffee and shopping area.

Primrose Hill village
Primrose Hill village – North London
The village like Primrose Hill, Camden. Unseen Tours.
The village-like Primrose Hill, Camden, London.

And then onwards for a stroll along Regent’s Canal along to Camden Lock and Market.

Approaching Camden Lock - Unseen Tours.
Approaching Camden Lock on my unique London walking tour – Unseen Tours.

Camden Lock Market

Loud, eclectic and hip, I love this place.  Our tour ended here and we said goodbye to Mike.  I mooched around and had some well deserved warm apple tea.  Here’s my Camden Market in pictures:

Camden Lock Market - Unseen Tours
Camden Lock Market
My apple and cinnamon tea served here - Camden Lock Market - Unseen Tours
My apple and cinnamon tea served here – Camden Lock Market
Tribute to Camden's famous resident - Amy Winehouse - Unseen Tours
Tribute to Camden’s famous resident – Amy Winehouse – Unseen Tours

Would I do another Unseen Tour?  You bet…for £12 it’s great value and I feel I’ve contributed to a worthwhile cause and receive an eclectic, local’s take on the area.  Thanks Mike, and the Unseen team – you’ve gained a fan.

Unseen Tours can be found on:

Facebook

Twitter

and links throughout this article to their website.

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Unseen Walking ToursOriginally published in January 2015, this post has been revised and updated in August 2018.

10 COMMENTS

    • It’s a great idea isn’t it Deb. Glad this post could inspire you. When I go back, I certainly intend to do another one.

  1. This is a fabulous idea and the tours look fascinating. I will definitely get some friends together and take some of these tours over the next few months. There is so much going on to do in cities all over the world that we just don’t know about, thank you for alerting us to them and sharing your experiences.

    • Thanks Christine. Yes, it is great to see these types of tours taking place. I certainly intend to do another one whenever I am back. If you live in London, all the more reason for you to do a tour! I hope you get as much out of it as I did.

  2. So interesting! Makes one think about the homelessness issue, something that many people don’t think about often. Especially the case of your guide Mike having had a senior management position but then having become homeless…it is so sad, eye-opening and makes you want to change the world.
    How about the other people in the tour, were they tourists who were in London for the first time or people who were attracted to the idea of a tour through the eyes of a homeless Londoner?

    • The other lady was from Italy and she’d been to London many times, was staying with friends but just wanted a tour of a ‘different’ kind. I think we all have one thing in common: it’s good knowing that 60% of the tour price goes to the guide…but as their website clearly states, it’s not a voyeuristic tour to look at homeless spots, rather “our tours are not tours of the homeless but, rather, with them – an important distinction that reverses the power balance between our homeless guides and ‘mainstream’ society, as the guides are the voices of authority who lead us on the tours.”

    • Thanks Claire, and thanks for your Twitter comment.
      Yes, this is a great concept and various tours to choose around London. Loved it!

  3. Walking tours are the best Bex. Totally know what you mean, living in a place and not seeing it. We’ve been to NYC hundreds of times but only noticed stuff over the past few years, when trips have been less frequent. Tweeted for you.

    Ryan

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