Wednesday 9th April 2014

Today is my first meeting with Melanie Unwin, the Deputy Curator of Works of Art for the Houses of Parliament. I also get my security pass and get my ‘introduction to everything’, whatever that may be.

My main dilemma is what to wear. Actually to be more precise, can I wear my trainers?  This is good; it distracts me from the reality of feelings of apprehension about being at ‘the beginning’ bit of my residency.

Photograph of the Palace of Westminster from the Southbank

The Palace of Westminster (Image: UK Parliament)

I take the train up and walk from Waterloo to Westminster. I soon realise that I don’t want to do that again, as it seems that all of London’s tourists are collected by the London Eye and along Westminster Bridge, conspiring to act as a barrier between my new job and me. I imagine myself fighting my way through the crowds, pointing at Big Ben shouting ‘you don’t understand, I actually work in there!’

I make it to an office building on the parliamentary estate, to go through the first stage of getting a security pass.  I’m escorted up to the second floor. I’m already interested that I’m not allowed to go in the lift on my own.  Once sat down at a computer terminal, I watch a health and safety film that informs me of my required conduct while I am working on the estate.  The man who shows this to me asks what I think of it. I laugh gently and explain that as it’s aimed mainly at workmen, it’s maybe not so relevant for me – but it was alright as health and safety videos go.

We get into discussion about my residency and immediately I warm to his interest in the project, I leave feeling positive and with careful instructions from him explaining the next part of getting my pass.

Crossing the square, I’m ushered into a very small waiting room and here I have a photo taken.  The first picture goes wrong and I’m called back for another. I ask if I can choose which one I like. This doesn’t go down too well but then I add ‘it’s because I’m an artist’. I get a smile and again we talk about my up-coming project.  I realise that I might be an ‘interesting alien’ in this establishment.  Already, l like this community.

Melanie appears and whisks me away through a series of corridors, explaining that I won’t remember anything and not to worry, it takes a while for everyone, and it is a very confusing building.  I nod and begin to soak up everything. This absorption will not stop now until I finish my residency.


Portcullis House (Image: UK Parliament)

After a brief introduction to the Arts team,1 we go to Portcullis House for coffee and to discuss the brief. I love it here! Trees and water inside, easy acoustics, good light and a café with fresh coffee. Melanie expertly navigates us through the whole project outline. It takes a good few hours.  After, we become aware of how intense our first meeting has been and decide to take a walk around the building. Immediately I warm to her and know that I’m in safe hands. As she leads me through Westminster Hall, I feel shivery and ask if it’s me or if it really is cold? She explains the old building is draughty and damp.

We decide to call it a day, but before we finish up she hands me a book; It’s the A level guide to Suffrage2 – what a great place to start!

She leads me to where I had entered the building. I hug her, as I feel so grateful to have had such a great introduction, I’m not sure that’s the done thing round here – oh well, too late!

Come back on Tuesday 26 July 2016 to find out how Mary begins her research…

1. Find out more about the Parliamentary Curator’s Office at
2. Paula Bartley, Votes for Women 3rd edition (Hodder Education, 2007)