Community trip to the Houses of Parliament

As we reported back in November, one of the winners of Touchstone’s MAP+ project small community grants, was Yanks Sawo’s community trip to visit the Houses of Parliament. Here, Anne Wilson describes the trip, which she joined with volunteers from SLATE, the learning disabilities charity.

In the early part of the year an intriguing article appeared in South Leeds Life – it offered a trip to Parliament with transport paid. I contacted Yanks, whom I’d met from a theatre trip – to try and nab some tickets for the SLATE team. Yanks was wonderful and we grew our request to 6 tickets and Yanks was very nice about it. We then learnt that we were due to travel at 6:15am and by coach! A gift’s a gift, right?!!

Yanks stayed in touch as we grew closer to our travel date and I confirmed with volunteers I felt would manage a 4:45am start. SLATE were very lucky and were given 3 free hotel rooms by Room to Reward and the Mercure Hotel in Leeds so we had a Sunday in Leeds – gorgeous hot chocolates at Hotel Chocolat and an early check in. Then a wander to watch Voluntary Action Leeds’ Volunteer Services Manager DJ at The Doghouse on Kirkgate – reggae tunes on a chilly spring evening. We headed back to bed for 9pm. A really great mobile Mercure breakfast in hand.

Next morning, our SLATE group wandered across Leeds at 5:30am. We were surprised how alive the city was at that time. We met Yanks and the rest of the group at the Leeds bus station – what smart company we entered, in both meanings of the word – suits and gorgeous jackets and serious conversations about South Leeds and world politics. It was wonderful and the SLATE team felt lucky.

The coach journey was a long one – no stops! That was a lesson!

We arrived in London and were generously treated to a taxi to the Houses of Parliament. As we arrived the climate change protesters were evident on Parliament Green.

Gasping, we went through security to get to the cafe on the other side – a proper quest! Inside parliament the atmosphere was calm and filled with the stability of centuries of history, plus a gift shop!

We rejoined Yanks and waited for our tour to begin in Westminster Hall – the scene of 850 years of history – coronations, state funerals, famous foreign political leaders and now our Leeds lot!

Our tour guide was rather intimidating and seemed a little opposed to people absorbing the atmosphere of the building. We fought this and looked around freely, enjoying the grandeur of the building. I can’t say that our guide reacted to her audience and responded to them, but the Houses of Parliament is a strong enough personality to speak for itself. Our group stood on the floor of the House of Commons and the House of Lords … we saw the voting chambers and post office in the central lobby.

The human highlight was Hillary (Benn) – so approachable and accessible for all. Our large group were treated to tea and cake in Portcullis House the large building next to the historic houses of Parliament that houses committee rooms and MP’s offices. Talking to our MP was genuinely the best and most cheering part of the day – we felt hosted and cared for. Really energising and a positive boost. Then we dashed back to the bus, it was 4pm. The protesters were still on the green and nearby. We learnt new symbols – the hour glass in a circle.

We had fun trying to leave London, the roads were shut and we ended up reversing down the main road outside the Royal Academy and Fortnum and Mason – we had been mistakenly allowed on to closed streets. We did a large circle – up close to all the exclusive stores – many diamonds and the Ritz. After an unexpected hour long tour of exclusive London, we were on our way home.

The journey home was reflective – looking at photos and sharing thoughts. We agreed to stay in touch as a group to swap photos and for our new friends to come shopping at SLATE soon.

The whole day was a blessing


Ebrima Badjie:

“I would like to seize this splendid opportunity to thank U Choose – Touchstone for funding such an invaluable, highly educative and historic trip to the Houses of Parliament in London. Personally, I enjoyed and learned a lot from it and I have no doubt that the same applies to the rest of the team. It was a historic moment for all, because we will always remember that event. We also gained additional knowledge from the highly experienced and seasoned tour guide, Elizabeth, who did a detailed and fantastic presentation of information.

“Coming to the group, it was a good selection. We all worked together successfully as if we had been together decades. It was so cordial as if we had been on training sessions prior this. The journey was long but we did not feel it bad as a result of a new bond which mutually emerged and kept us cohesively together throughout the day. It was a great success. My thanks also goes to our honourable MP, Mr Hillary Benn for hosting such a highly and unprecedented reception as well as spending invaluable and fruitful conversation with us.

“Furthermore, I would like to say to the sponsors that it was a great success and every resource and penny used were worth the course. Finally, I would like to  express a meritorious gratitude of appreciations to the organisation (Touchstone) and its stakeholders who made this worthy opportunity available to our community. Today I feel highly privileged and proud with a far reaching sense of belongingness to the Beeston and Holbeck community”

Phateh Baldeh:

“I am grateful to the Gambian community in Leeds through Yanks Sawo and the organisers of the amazing trip to parliament. It was very educative and motivational, at the same time it was gave me the opportunity to understand your day to day activities. It was an opportunity to have a tour around the parliament building and learn so much history. I must confess that the MP of Leeds Central Mr Benn, you inspire me so much, I would thank you for the opportunity. I would like to sincerely acknowledge my appreciation to the organisers of the trip.

“I hope more people in your constituency will able to embark on such trips. I was surprised how humble you were Mr Benn meeting you for the first in person. Even with a very busy schedule you were able to sit down, have long and inspiring conversation. I was more impressed with the way you answered our questions, especially mine. Which was: “What is your greatest achievement as an MP?” It was wonderful to listen to your involvement with different partners, especially at international level, for example the United Nations and disaster management. You also listened to our concerns ranging from different areas. Especially some of issues people experienced with the Home Office.

“These demonstrate how humble and a great leader you are. I believe first and foremost you are a good man and MP, in local and national and international matters .. .and in the present political climate these qualities are very thin on the ground!”

Noor Zaman:

“Thank you for inviting me on this trip to the Houses of Parliament. There was a lot of history to take in about the sitting of the MPs and the House of Lords, learning about the history has given me insight into how democracy came into existence,
how common person got their voting rights, how through the centuries time has altered the Houses of Parliament. It shows how MPs debate the laws that govern us today and then they go to the House of Lords and are debated there and then it’s passed and then it is sealed by the Queen.”

Sara Sowe:

“The visit was amazing, a great achievement and the experience of a lifetime.”


“I am extremely grateful to the Fantastic Fifteen for coming, and also hugely appreciative of Nick Lalvani and U Choose – Touchstone for sponsoring this very educational trip. I am hugely delighted that everyone has a positive thing to say about the visit. Finally, I thank Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP for his hospitality and his wife, Sally Clark, for facilitating the visit. Behind every successful man there is a strong women. Thank you Sally.”


This post was written by Anne Wilson

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