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.
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.
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 parliament.uk/art
2. Paula Bartley, Votes for Women 3rd edition (Hodder Education, 2007)