On the 28th June, 8 Changing Realities participants from across the UK came to Westminster to participate in a Lobby Day. In this blog, CR participant Brian shares his experience of attending.
The Changing realities Lobby day was part of a project run by University of York and Child Poverty Action Group, it’s aims are to highlight the struggles and hardships faced by millions families living on a low income often through no fault of their own. This is being carried out by highlighting lived experiences from people and families struggling to survive on or below the breadline from all parts of the UK. They are bringing these lived stories and experiences to people in government to try and make sure that a meaningful and lasting change will be made so these families can live a better life and bring up their families to the full potential that they can achieve. The Lobby day was a way of bringing these people to the heart of government in Westminster where some were able to tell their local MPs in person of the struggles they face on a day to day basis.
We all started out by travelling to central London from around the UK by trains, planes and automobiles. With participants from Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland including some with mobility issues making it a lot more difficult for them to travel. On arrival we all met up with our ‘buddies’ from the research team for the day ahead at Changing Realities and Child Poverty Action Group, who all made us feel comfortable, relaxed and equal. We then checked into our hotels where we could get a good night's rest before the busy day ahead in the morning. First though, the research team had arranged for us all to meet for dinner where we all could get to know each other and discuss plans for the following day, as previously very few of us had actually met in person only by group video calls.
The next day was going to be both busy and exciting as the research team had a packed schedule planned. After breakfast we all met at the YMCA to discuss plans for the day, where everything was well arranged with not a moment wasted. From there we all headed over to the Wellcome Collection to visit a exhibition, where they had on display and an audio of a letter Changing Realities participants had written and delivered to the then Prime Minister about how the cost of living crisis was affecting people living on a low income particularly hard. This was great to see and listen to and had been visited by thousands of visitors since being on display. After this we were all bought lunch on the short walk back to the YMCA so we could go through the final briefing about what we should expect when arriving at Westminster and what we would be saying to our MPs for those who had been able to get in person meetings. From here, we got taxis to Portcullis House for those meeting MPs, while those that could not get appointments on the day headed off to a lovely cafe for tea and cake. Here we were able to chat and get to know each other a bit better and sat making zines together with artist Jean Mcewan which looked a bit like a nursery play table covered with paper, glue, pens and scraps but was great fun to be involved with. Then over the road to Westminster Palace for a tour which meant going through security checks before meeting our guide.
Westminster was very busy as both the House of Commons and the House of Lords were sitting but we were not rushed by our guide and made to feel comfortable and relaxed. While here we got to have a good look around at places most of us had only ever seen on TV and were able to experience some of the customs that go on in Parliament. This was a wonderful experience that was even better by the joyful and experienced tour guide. We stopped to take a group photo on the steps of the banqueting hall where many historical and famous people have previously made speeches before heading to the exit. Once outside we all met up to have a chat about the visit and catch up with those participants that were able to meet with their MP to find out how they felt it went which all sounded very positive.
For those unable to obtain appointments on the day the team are arranging for these meetings to take place at a later date in the community. The further we can get this message into government with the help of local MPs the better chance we all stand of being listened to and respected for the people we are and not for who we are portrayed to be in the news and often by the media. By running this campaign we all hope that we have a much louder voice than as an individual so the government will have to listen to the truth about our lives, make changes in the way we are treated and respect us for the people we are.
Sadly this was also a time to start saying our goodbyes to other researchers and participants as we would soon be making our way back to airports/ train stations for our journeys home. For this it was another taxi back to CPAG where once again I was made to feel very relaxed and welcome, I sat with my buddy for the day in an outside space that was extremely quiet for central London. Chatting with my buddy for the journey about the experience of the event and life in general before heading home myself with remarkable memories and a feeling of achievement.
The highlights of the day for me were being able to meet some of the people in person who I have only ever seen or spoken to on video calls, feeling equal and respected by everyone involved and feeling proud to be a part of a project that is helping to bring real change to the lives of so many people. Also, being able to visit Westminster and see the heart of government where the decisions are made that affect our lives in so many ways.
Talking with the participants that were able to meet with their local MPs on the day, it was great to hear that they all felt that the meetings had gone well, they had been listened to and understood they also reported that some of the issues raised would be looked into and be contacted at some point in the near future.
Overall this was an amazing day and experience in the centre of London, feeling like I did not have a care in the world. It truly felt like I was with a group of friends. Life on a low income is a lonely place and with other health issues I rarely have the money or confidence to leave home. The main thing I took away from this was feeling that as part of a larger project I am helping to improve not only my own life and that of my daughter but the lives of so many other families in a similar situation that feel as I did nobody is going to listen or take notice but a project such as this will be listened too. The government has to listen and must make the changes that are needed so the whole of society can live as one.