As someone who takes an active interest in politics, both locally and nationally, I jumped at the opportunity to join others from the Cardinal Hume Centre on a Democratic Access tour of the Houses of Parliament.
We began in the only surviving part of the Palace of Westminster, Westminster Hall, which, we learned, was built in 1097. We were then taken through the Central Lobby, taking in the many paintings and statues en route and stopping to appreciate the amazing tiled floors, and wonderfully ornate walls and ceiling. We passed first into the House of Commons then on to the far grander House of Lords Chamber. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable about the history and protocols of Parliament and was able to answer all the group’s questions with enthusiasm and good humour. He pointed out details that might have gone unnoticed, like the bag hanging behind the Speaker’s Chair in which Members place petitions on behalf of members of the public or organisations, and the red lines between the two front benches, intended to keep the two sides ‘an extended sword’ distance apart.
Returning back to our starting point in Westminster Hall, I was especially interested to hear about the glass installation recently placed at the top of the stairs and entitled ‘New Dawn’. Commissioned to commemorate women’s suffrage it is made up of back-lit glass ‘scrolls’ representing the many petitions made to Parliament over a fifty year period demanding votes for women. The lighting is linked to the tides of the Thames so that at high tide the whole sculpture is illuminated.
As a volunteer at CHC it was a real treat to be offered a place on the tour, particularly as the general election was to be only a couple of days after our visit. Throughout, I was conscious of how daunting it would be for any newly elected members to find their way around these historic buildings and not to be overwhelmed by the historic traditions they would be carrying on.
Written by Katie Burton, IT Volunteer