London Walks and Badged Guides

Every so often some organisation or other wants to restrict guiding to City Guides, or Blue Badge Guides and it is rearing its ugly head again.

The problem is that some people believe that, after a course of instruction, that the Badged Tourist Guide becomes the sole repositories of accurate knowledge about Heritage in their area. They forget that lecturers, academics, PhDs, writers, actors, specialists and the like have knowledge that only the very best badged guides can match. They also forget that teachers, lecturers and group leaders are often trained pedagogues who know how to teach, and who know their group in a way that is not possible for a hired guided to emulate.

They want to return to the restrictive practices of the past and a system better suited to a Totalitarian state than a modern democracy.

There is of course a potential problem with control of standards and crowd control in certain places.

The Badge Guide solution to this problem is to restrict guiding to badged tourist guides.

Firstly, they need to recognise that a teacher, for example, has far better training in how to control their group in terms both of health and safety and in the imparting of information.

Secondly they need to accept that there are times when the teacher, lecturer, or group leader also know the curriculum they are teaching, and crucially they know how much of it has been taught and what the learning outcomes are for the visit. They may decide the knowledge of the badged guide is useful and can be used - however, they may also legitimately decide they themselves are the best suited to delivery it.

Thirdly, some walks by their nature call for a specialist guide with knowledge that cannot be reproduced by an available badged guide. For example, the tour guide might need to be a writer or a poet or an expert on English Baroque architecture - someone with expert knowledge

I can see no justification for a blanket ban on guiding by any but a badged tourist guide. Each place should, at least, allow that there are exceptions to the general rule.

However, it would be useful to provide short induction courses to non-blue badge guides so that the venues can train them in any special circumstances that might apply.

I also think that the badged guide organisations need to be trying to bring into the fold those specialists that do not see the relevance of a badge guide course.

For example, they might offer teachers, historians, archaeologists etc a short course on the principles of guiding - covering health and safety and how to deal with a walking group. There might be short courses for experts to be induced into guiding at a particularly place - perhaps a 3 day course for the Tower, and Abbey for example. 2 hour course for a small museum.

Or there might be a fast track course for converting expert guides into badge guides. Clearly, entry qualification for this would need to be stringent. A professional life spent in research or the heritage industry, a PhD or a lifetime of guiding.

It is surely not beyond the wit of London to find a way of reconciling different approaches to Guiding. But it is clearly absurd to stop lecturers or experts guiding in buildings they know better than any but the very best badged guides. Or to give priviledged publicity opportunities for badged guided tours as opposed to the many and excellent tours given by independent companies and organisations.

Kevin Flude gives occasional guided walks for London Walks, the Old Operating Theatre Museum, lectures at various London Universities and is Course Director for Road Scholar - the not-for-profit leader in educational travel.

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