Who is Hackney Tours?

“Who doesn’t love exploring and feeling inspired? I want to excite that curiosity in others. There’s so much to discover about what’s around us and this is how we learn, grow and connect with ourselves…”

Hackney Tours talking to group by Coronation Avenue marker

Want the short version?

After working around the world and leading tours on four continents, founder Simon Cole (me) became more environmentally aware and wondered why we had to go elsewhere to have transformative experiences and to really feel alive?

After some digging, he found that his own part of London was steeped in a rich history with a powerful narrative of dissent and campaigning for positive social change. At the same time it was the London 2012 Olympics so there was a lot of media attention on Hackney. He founded Hackney Tours as a way of sharing his enthusiasm for our surroundings but also exploring the many issues thrown up by a changing city in a changing world.

An auto-didact who’s lived in several countries, he believes you can get more out of life through exploration and education. He loves the discovery buzz and wants to help others find those lightbulb moments in life more often – in the best traditions of participatory art.

Being out in the world is how we make sense of its complexity, so as well as writing & community arts (part of Transit Collective and Promenade) he is a fitness coach who spends a lot of time outdoors.

Here’s a longer bio (also a CV…):

“In the last decade I’ve been an international tour guide, diver, travel writer, fitness journalist and personal trainer. At first glance very different jobs but all forms of communicating my enthusiasm for discovery.

I love showing people new things, opening doors to new adventures and avenues they can explore themselves again. To appreciate something, you have to know about it first. Or sometimes, you just have to see it a different way. And to see it in a different way, sometimes you need someone to frame that experience for you…

After travelling to some 36 or so countries I just couldn’t settle and was all set to move to the amazing city of Berlin – until I discovered a very special progressive, creative community in a very special London borough.

I still guide abroad at times and travel regularly to places like Paris and Berlin; but I’m always happy to come home to Hackney. Now I guide people on local safaris and – as a personal trainer – on the more personal journey of discovery that is health and fitness. But all of these things are essentially about realising and appreciating what we have in front of us.

Writing credits include Runner’s World; The London Paper (that really lasted didn’t it?); Real Travel Magazine (also defunct, I swear I have no responsibility for either’s demise); TNT; Not For Tourists (London); City-Lit Berlin & Dublin anthologies; and more.

Festival work includes walkabout performance at Glastonbury; Playgroup and Nowhere (Spain).

I speak (almost) fluent French and as a Germanophile I’m painfully learning Deutsch. I get a real kick out of taking parties of North American school groups and showing them Europe for the first time, constantly seeing things anew.

The only non-German to take part in the Grenzenlos Laufen (Borderless Run), I ran along the 1,393km former East German border from Hof to Priwall in 2009. In 2014 I was involved in the Europe Run to Unity 1914-2014 commemorative project, finishing at the European Parliament.

Other highlights have included stints as a Diver Master on the Great Barrier Reef and Vanuatu as well as crewing a London Routemaster bus at Nevada’s Burning Man festival.

Like many, I struggle with the complexities – and contradictions – of gentrification in Hackney as well as the awareness that I am myself part of a process of change which brings good and bad results.

Although I have spoken about this at Germany’s Documenta art fair and also at This Is Not A Gateway 2013; I don’t pretend to have the answers and the tours are a form of ongoing research. I know that a continuous conversation needs to take place before we can find any solutions together.

Like the reformers and Abolitionists in Abney Park cemetery, I know that we have the power to change things for the better and that nothing is inevitable.

As well as uncovering the past and revealing the beauty in the present, I hope to open up different avenues of exploration for people to make up their own minds on contemporary issues in East London; to be a conduit for different ideas and viewpoints. I think people are more important than slogans and I don’t belong to a political party.

I’m lucky to live in such an interesting place and to have received a good (ongoing) education. Art, creativity and biodiversity are, like our young, precious things to cultivate and nurture so they can benefit all of society in the long run. I particularly enjoy leading walks around special places like Abney Park and Hackney Wick.

More recently I have collaborated with Wick Award, Grow, and been commissioned by b-side Festival in Dorset.

Simon Cole

(Founder, Hackney Tours)

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