March 2020 was the start of an incredibly difficult time for many people.  The pandemic confined people to their homes as the disease spread around the world. Many were infected, and some did not survive.  The nurses, doctors and medical professionals were working round the clock, providing care and compassion.  The tourism industry collapsed, the culture sector ground to a halt, and for tour guides there was no work at all.

We all changed our routines, spent more time locally, and found activities to occupy ourselves.  For Julie and Debbie, that meant continuing to read about Florence Nightingale.  And with the increase in the use of conferencing technology, Julie was able to offer online talks on Florence Nightingale’s London.

After four months, the rules eased, and the summer looked promising.  The Rule of Six was brought in.  Julie and Debbie ventured forth, using public transport for the first time since March.  They walked the route, and checked each stop – to see whether there was enough space for social distancing.  They took tape measures and board game characters, to represent potential customers.  Each location was scrutinised, to see whether a group of six people (one guide and five customers) could safely stand two metres apart from each other.

Tape Measures at the ready

It soon became obvious that the walk had to be revised, since people walking between stops would also need to be two metres apart, and this would inevitably mean it would take longer.  So, Julie and Debbie decided that the walk should stop at the statue of Florence Nightingale in Waterloo Place, rather than at the museum.  In guiding terms, it is always sensible to make an impact at the end of a walk, preferably with a strong visual subject.  The larger than life sized statue of the Lady with the Lamp certainly fits the bill.

Statue of Florence Nightingale, Waterloo Place

The Florence Nightingale Museum re-opened on 1st August 2020, with reduced opening hours, restricted numbers and enhanced cleaning measures.  Florence Nightingale was very keen on fresh air and ventilation, hand washing and hygiene.  Her message had never been more relevant.

And the guided walks resumed.  The groups were small – no more than five people – but most of them were fully booked.  It was such a wonderful feeling to be out and about again, talking about Florence Nightingale, interacting with new people, earning some income, and enjoying the sights of London.

But the pandemic was not over, and it appeared inevitable there would be another lockdown.  It looked like it would be a very long winter.  However, over the intervening months, a question had been forming in Debbie’s brain.  With all the research that Julie and Debbie had done on Florence Nightingale’s London, would there be enough material to write a book?  Debbie and Julie discussed the idea over a working lunch in a City restaurant, and then arranged a conference call with the museum.  Everyone agreed, it was certainly worthwhile trying.

So Julie and Debbie started writing.

This is the tale of two London tour guides, Debbie Pearson and Julie Chandler.  It tells how they met and started to work together; how they became acquainted with Florence Nightingale; and how they came to form a business partnership and write their first book.

Debbie and Julie are London tour guides, and had met through their guiding activities. 

Debbie qualified in 1999 as a City of London tour guide – specialising in the financial district of London, also known as the “Square Mile”.  Upon qualification as a City Guide, Debbie became a member of the City of London Guide Lecturers Association.  At that time, Debbie had a full-time job in the City of London, and her guiding usually took place on the weekends.  She also gave evening lectures for the Knowledge of the City lecture series, the brainchild of a former City Guide tutor.  And after a few years, she became involved in organising these lectures herself.

Debbie in the City of London

Julie started her guiding journey by studying to become a City of Westminster tour guide – qualifying in 2008. She followed this up by taking her City Guide examinations in 2009.  In 2010 Julie left financial services, took a part time job at the Museum of London and created her own company, London Town Tours. 

Julie as Chair of the City of Westminster Guide Lecturers Association

When Debbie’s job became part time, she took another guiding course, and qualified as a City of Westminster tour guide in 2011.  That was also the year that Julie was elected as Chair of the City of Westminster Guide Lecturers Association, serving a three year term of office.  Debbie joined the committee in 2012 and worked alongside Julie for two years.

Debbie in the City of Westminster

The guiding courses for the City of London and City of Westminster award qualifications for guides who specialise in a specific area of London – in other words, Local London Guiding. Julie decided to expand her horizons, and took on the significant challenge of studying for the Blue Badge guiding qualification – an internationally recognised qualification that equips tourist guides to guide anywhere in London, and within a day’s journey of the capital.  She completed this training in 2014.

Julie wearing her Blue Badge

Julie is also an accomplished speaker, and amongst many other engagements, gave talks for the Knowledge of the City lectures organised by Debbie.

By this time, Julie and Debbie had been friends for some while, and during the course of their many conversations, they discovered they had both worked for the same bank over a number of years.

In 2017 Julie had received a request to lead a Financial Walk in the City of London.  It was for a large group of students, and two guides were needed.  Julie asked Debbie to become the second guide, and the walk was a great success.  The same university asked Julie to lead the walk the following year, and Julie again asked Debbie to join her.

As a guide, you frequently work on your own.  But as shown above, there are plenty of opportunities to work in teams.