HE has been homeless more than a dozen times from his early teens right through to his late 40s.

Paul Stewart was someone Edinburgh tourists might have walked past or ignored.

However now he is very much part of the picture after becoming a tour guide with a ground-breaking project which has been commended in travel bible Lonely Planet.

Invisible Cities, a social enterprise, is one of the tourist ventures to be singled out that is making a difference.

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Operating in both Glasgow and Edinburgh. it is among a handful of projects to be awarded Best in Travel for 2021 by Lonely Planet. Invisible Cities offers people affected by homelessness the opportunity to become a tour guide in their own city. Providing engaging and alternative walks bringing city stories to life with unique local perspectives for both tourists and locals in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and also operates in York and Manchester.

Mr Stewart, 53, doesn’t have to go far to draw on real stories for tourists on his tours. He takes them to part of Leith which would be familiar to anyone who has read Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting such as the curving Banana flats home to Sick Boy and to the site of Leith Central train station how home to a Tesco supermarket. He doesn’t shy away from showing them the real Leith and grew up in the area in the 70s and 80s.

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“I lived through the real Trainspotting in the 80s and I take people on tours round Leith and don’t hold back,” said Mr Stewart. “I show them everything and take them to shopping area, Kirkgate, where they will see life.

“I also do tours Edinburgh Old Town and from the Royal Mile to the Scottish Parliament and I have grown to like different areas of the city.”

Life as a tour guide is in stark contrast to what Mr Stewart has gone through over the years. Homeless for the first time as a teenager, he has been in and out of temporary accommodation, but it was while in a hostel three years ago that he learned about Invisible Cities.

“I would have been the person who was invisible at one point, but working with this project has given people like me a voice and we are no longer invisible,” he added.

The accolade celebrates commitment to community, diversity and sustainability across the world for 2021. Lonely Planet is looking ahead to the future of travel, recognising not only places, but also people and communities who are transforming the travel industry.

Their Best in Travel 2021 list has selected 30 inspirational people, destinations and tourism projects that shine a light on pioneering sustainable practices, regenerating local communities and promoting representation in all aspects of travel.

“Travel in 2021 and beyond will be a much more considerate exercise than it has been ever before,” Lonely Planet CEO Luis Cabrera said. “With travellers cautiously re-engaging with the world and focusing on ensuring their impact is safe and positive for host communities, we have decided to highlight destinations and individuals that truly enable visitors to make genuine contributions through regenerative travel.”

Zakia Moulaoui Guery, Founder and CEO of Invisible Cities CIC, said the award was a welcome boost.

“Our social enterprise doesn’t believe in labels or stereotypes and we want to help as many people as possible to realise their true potential,” said Ms Moulaoui Guery. “Through supporting those who have experienced homelessness and training them to become tour guides in their own city, we can help them to change the direction of their lives whilst also offering these one of a kind tours to both locals and tourists alike. It means the world to us that we have been awarded the Best in Travel 2021 award by Lonely Planet and it’s given use a well needed boost in what has otherwise been a somewhat challenging year.”

As for Mr Stewart he hopes he can take his new found career further. Earlier this year while coronavirus restrictions were more relaxed he was able to take groups of around a dozen on the Funshine on Leith tour, which was an initiative to promote Leith Comedy Festival.

He added: “I got great feedback on the tour and for some reason people tend to think I am funny. Maybe it is the way I deliver the tours. This has been a great opportunity for me and hopefully next year it can grow even further.”