The People Speak People! – Simon

Welcome to our micro-blog series where we will introduce some of the recent members of The People Speak team.

“Ploughing our furrow”

It’s not every day that you get to take part in a first, but the highlight of 2020 for me was collaborating with The People Speak in my favourite part of East London: Hackney Wick. For someone keen to see how travel can be a transformational experience even close to home, it was the perfect opportunity to try something new in an old familiar place.

Over the Covid summer of 2020 I had been getting a lot from The People Speak’s online versions of their established Talkaoke format. Discussions covered anything from Brexit to Futurology to how the arts can reach people amid a pandemic. So when the enterprising Margot rang from The People Speak, to suggest we apply for Creative Enterprise Zone funding to bring people together, I jumped at the chance.

As Hackney Tours, I’ve traditionally ploughed my own furrow, absorbing what I’ve experienced over a decade of exploration places like Hackney Wick to share it later with curious locals, academics and foreign visitors alike. I’ve attended community meetings there, engaged in activism and had countless conversations with people about the ongoing changes.

As a tour guide, I’m often asked to inspire students and organisations by giving my own take on the processes at work along the Hackney Cut, one of the canals that gently flow through this former factory town. But Wick Speaks! was a chance to see how The People Speak operate and to work in a very different way.

Along with the team at Aberfeldy Street, we recruited two local freelancers to go into the Wick and ask people on the street what they thought a tour should be comprised of. This time I was facilitating others, rather than the one talking – and highly rewarding it was too. My own journey has seen me increasingly move away from ‘telling it how it is’ to inviting people to collaborate in the creation of something new, unique and co-owned.

The work of The People Speak is also about bringing in others, connecting and sharing. With this ’emergent’ style, it wasn’t possible to know the end result, we had to trust the process. But sure enough the people of Hackney Wick didn’t let us down. The result was a first: a grassroots unscripted tour voiced by people who live and work in the Wick, shared on multiple platforms in the format of a live TV show. That’s the thing with experiments and working with others, you never know where you might end up.

You can watch Wick Speaks! Tour video here.

Simon Cole founded Hackney Tours in 2012 as a way to really connect with his own backyard, using carbon-free, deep, slow travel. He’s drawn to lesser heard stories, like Hackney’s role in social justice struggles past and present, or the complexities of gentrification and sustainable cities. Can social enterprise tours change the world? How does street art help us interrogate our environment in the era of fake news and alternative facts? From women’s history running tours to the Wick Speaks! collaboration with The People Speak, he tries to innovate. He believes in the power of curiosity and that the biggest journey of all – to be fully in the world – starts with a little local adventure.

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