Sock Mob Events has evolved from the work of The Sock Mob, an informal volunteer network that engages with London’s street people through regular weekly walks, using the icebreaking power of socks and conversation.
The Sock Mob has highlighted the enormous potential in connecting people from different walks of life as a way of overcoming the stigmas associated with marginalized groups – such as the homeless – which often prevent them from participating meaningfully in the social and cultural life of the city.
We at Sock Mob Events believe that this potential can best be developed further by empowering homeless and vulnerably housed individuals to take positive action for their own lives and supporting them in the process of regaining their confidence. In response to this, we coach homeless people we work with to be tour guides, taking you along an entertaining as well as meaningful walk. We do this by teasing out their creativity and resourcefulness, and helping to nurture their confidence.
In other words…
We do not want to reinforce the many negative assumptions associated with the homeless and homelessness, but instead seek to harness the energy and knowledge of people living on the streets, and those vulnerably housed, to show the positive contributions they make to our city. In the process, we hope to offer something that’s of worth and excitement to every Londoner and visitor alike, and to all who want to connect with people from different walks of life.
And in terms of how we relate to one another:
Sock Mob events is a social enterprise. What this means in practice for us is that we have co-constructed every aspect of the tours and processes with the guides themselves, making the Unseen Tour experience a truly joint venture from the ground up. This driving vision also means that the lion’s share of the money we receive from you in payment for our tours goes to the guides, while any profit we make is directly reinvested back into the enterprise to engage more guides and widen the scope of our tours.
So how exactly does the money work?
Our Unseen Tour guides receive 60% direct of ticket revenues, paid either on a weekly or monthly basis (depending on what they prefer). The remaining 40% is reinvested into a common kitty out of which they also receive their monthly travel and mobile phone-top ups paid, meaning that, in real terms, they get around 80% of total ticket revenues.
We have, on occasion, given interest-free loans to some of our guides to help them pay their new rent, solicitor’s fees, and service charge arrears if they’re staying in a hostel. In these cases, the guides pay us back at 10% of tour ticket sales, so they would receive 50% in total of their ticket revenues until the loan is paid off. However this would not affect their monthly travel and phone allowance, which they would always receive.
After the guides have been paid and travel/phones covered, the remaining 20% goes to cover costs such as insurance, marketing (flyers, etc) and volunteer expenses such as food and travel. On that last note, while our priority is and always will be to pay the guides, currently everyone driving the show behind the scenes is doing so on a voluntary basis.
A quick note: what we are not…
Let’s be clear: Unseen Tours are NOT part of the poverty tourism agenda – i.e. voyeuristically and superficially pointing out economically and ‘socially’ deprived areas and the deprived people within them. 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. Crucially, 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.