Back in August, the RNIB, [Royal National Institute for Blind people] announced they were holding a residential training course on campaigning. Until recently, I’ve not had much to do with the RNIB but have been passionate about campaigning for things in regard to the world in which we live and how that world and its changes effect those of us with sight loss.
I’ve done a lot of awareness with Guide dogs and have emailed my MP about issues and campaigns both RNIB and Guide Dogs have run over the past few years but I wanted to know how to campaign successfully and effectively.
So I applied to go on the course. Sadly, I didn’t get accepted for the two days residential training but was offered a day with the work shops on the Thursday which I applied for and was accepted to.
However, the week before the course started, a place became available for the residential course and I was offered the place. I was very lucky and truly appreciated the opportunity. It was one of the best experiences of my life.
I was very worried, being dog less and having to get around London with a cane. But the support I received was amazing and even though I was irritated that I couldn’t help myself more and had to rely on sighted guiding a lot, I got through it.
We arrived in London around 5 PM on Tuesday, checked into our hotel which was very nice, just a ten minute walk from the houses of Parliament near county Hall. We all had roommates and we were joined by the already established Hageye group which is the young people’s campaigning for RNIB Scotland and whom we would learn so much from over the next few days.
The idea of this trip was to establish a young people’s campaign group who would take charge of our own campaigns chosen by us.
Wednesday morning and we were up early to begin an action packed day. we went to the houses of parliament and gained security access with our passes and started in the Westminster Hall which I learnt had been the scene of a lot of historical decisions. It was a very old area and the only surviving area of the original West Minster.
Some of the group went on a tour, which I didn’t do but had a preparation talk on meeting with MPs and how parliament works. We also got a bit about the history to.
Once we’d finished this talk, we all went to stand in the lobby chamber and watched the speaker walk into the chamber. The lobby was beautiful and full of statues of previous monarchs. The one thing that was curious was that no photos were allowed to be taken in there.
It was fascinating to watch the Sergeant at arms and his deputies lead the speaker of the house, [the man or lady who keeps the MPs in check], from one door to the door of the commons whilst shouting, “strangers, take off your hats”. It is so nice to see tradition last.
The reason we didn’t do the tour was because we would have a great treat and actually sit in the gallery during Prime Minister’s Question time. for those of you who may not know, Prime Minister’s Question time, or “PMQs” is held weekly during Parliamentary sessions and focusses on issues that MPs want to ask of the PM or his cabinet.
PMQs was fascinating! I have watched it before but the atmosphere is very different in the gallery even though you are closed in by a screen. Apparently the screen was erected when someone threw flour over Tony Blaire.
After lunch, I had the privilege of meeting with my MP. I raised the issue of employment for disabled people and she was really interested in what I had to say. The nice thing is, is that my MP already has taken an interest and is on the panel for a few committees that deal with issues close to my heart.
after this, we had a talk on parliament and how it is divided. This was really interesting and taught me a lot about parliament I didn’t know.
For example, parliament is made up of the houses of commons, Lords, [which I knew] and the monarchy which I kind of knew but said privy council, not the monarch when we were asked. I also learnt that the chancellor is the only person allowed to drink in the commons and only during a budget.
We then met some Liberal democrat researchers. A researcher is a person who works for an MP and doesn’t necessarily research anything but they can do depending on what has been asked of them. They often manage their MP’s diaries and respond to constituents. They are the person you are likely to have contact with when you contact your MP.
We also met Gary O’Donoghue from the BbC who is their political correspondent. He was great and asked who we thought had won in the face off between Cameron and Millaband during PMQs. He talked about politics and how the media interpret things said and done by politicians.
Around four PM, we went for tea with Viscount craigavon who we learnt was a hereditary lord not an elected lord. We drank tea and had little sandwiches and cakes. it was in the house of Lords and so elegant.
We walked back to the hotel, Big Ben chiming at the side of us and the sun setting over the thames, it was very beautiful!
Thursday was spent at RNIB headquarters in London. We were joined by more young people and learnt a lot more about campaigning and voted on the campaign network name. It was very exciting and interesting.
we talked about issues that we were concerned about being young blind and partially sighted people. It was truly exciting.
Before we knew it, it was time to travel home again. But it was a productive and fun week.
I learnt a lot and hope to engage so much more. I was nervous about meeting my MP but she was lovely and approachable. I wasn’t sure how I’d get along with everyone but everyone was lovely.
I hope we can be successful in the future in campaigning and I plan to get more involved with politics and maybe even join a political party.