Behind the scenes at the Houses of Parliament

Having recently joined TimeBank one of my first tasks was to help organise our launch for the evaluation report of our Shoulder to Shoulder project at none other than … the House of Commons! This was an interesting experience and not without some surprises.

Shoulder to Shoulder is a mentoring project for ex-service men and women recovering from mental health problems (read more here) It reaches across a range of sectors (military organisations, mental health services, Government departments, charities) so there were a fairly diverse group of people to invite.

Next was a site visit to check out the room.  This was my first time in Westminster Hall, the oldest building in Parliament (built in 1097) and it really was impressive. The meeting rooms are very ornate and I was impressed to see tv screens up, showing the results of the latest votes in the House.

After we had agreed the layout and furniture, there were a few bureaucratic hurdles to overcome, with lots of different departments to contact. But everyone was helpful and I got there in the end. Then there was wine to order, name badges to prepare, IT support to think about and an evaluation report to print!

The TimeBank team arrived at Parliament bright and early after some interesting stories from our London cabbie. We cleared security minus a sharp corkscrew and set up and waited for the guests to arrive.

The speeches and presentation went well – Andrew Bingham MP, TimeBank Chief Executive Helen Walker and Orla Cronin, who evaluated the project, discussed the findings of the Shoulder to Shoulder report, which confirmed that ex-service men and women recovering from PTSD and other mental health issues felt more positive about their lives after taking part in the project.

Then to everyone’s surprise one more unexpected guest popped up from under a table – a mouse! Apparently there are quite a lot of them in the nooks and crannies of the Palace of Westminster. It’s said that a mouse even upstaged Winston Churchill when he was delivering a mighty speech once. Instead of all eyes being on him, they were trained on a small brown creature which was slowly crossing the floor of the Commons from the Government to the Opposition benches …

Thank goodness that didn’t happen at our launch. But it does seem that no matter how well prepared you are, you can’t legislate for something unexpected happening!