03 / 06 / 20
Laura Curzydlo reflects on her experience as a Parliamentor this year, and how this has shaped her own views on empowerment and leadership
In this post Brexit referendum climate, I wondered what I, as a Polish immigrant, could offer to the Parliamentors programme. I had grown up thinking I represent a minority voice that should stay silent about socio-political issues in the UK. I was interested in politics, but I did not know much about the theory – I study theology! Despite this doubt, I applied and secured a place on the Parliamentors programme, cohort 2019-2020.
The first stage of my experience was the 3-day residential induction in London 2019, where we were introduced to the programme, met fellow Parliamentors teammates, participated in workshops and explored concepts of identity, workshop management and UK politics. Retrospectively, I still view this induction as an enjoyable convention of likeminded enthusiastic students who have a vision for the world around them. Socialising with these individuals with such strong beliefs was truly inspiring. I have never met so many people with such diverse viewpoints, yet we were all committed to our common goal of social action. I was in awe of everyone’s commitment and passion for their beliefs.
Throughout our stay we learned how to embrace our differences and engage in dialogue with mutual respect. One of the exercises we did was rearranging chairs into powerful positions. I discovered that positioning, direction and expression have a lot to say about power dynamics in a room. Consequently, I left London more sensitive about how to create a safe environment where meaningful and honest discussion can flourish. And so, the planning of the project began.
My expectation of the process of organising our social action project was naive: we would agree on one vision, organise a few bits and bobs and – boom! Project delivered. But I was fooled. Our team was buzzing with ideas, leading to a paradox of choice. That same passion and commitment from the induction came to surface in this process; each one of us made a case for the social issues we considered a priority. We grazed our way through multiple different project ideas, including student safety, a community fair, care home support and crime prevention. At the midpoint training we were faced with groups who already had confirmed details of their projects. Truthfully, I think at one point we even doubted whether we could deliver anything. The challenges and hurdles we had faced in the organisation process lead us to become demotivated. Until finally everything clicked – empowerment of young women.
A key element of the programme was being mentored by MP William Wragg, who guided our project and advised us on our decision-making processes. Over the course of the programme, we visited his constituency in Hazel Grove and Westminster Parliament to gain insight into the behind the scenes of MP work. During one of our visits we caught up on our social action project over tea in the Parliament members only tearoom, and then toured the underground chaplaincy, where we got locked in (and eventually to be rescued by the security staff). Another highlight was watching Theresa May’s speech on the budget from the gallery.
Being in such close proximity to these important spaces and individuals who govern this country has been transforming. I stopped viewing politics and politicians as abstract concepts seen on BBC’s evening news. Instead, I appreciated that one day, I could do that too. William also introduced us to the everyday duties of MP’s and shared his insights into his career in politics. Throughout the project we also had a huge amount of support from The Faith and Belief Forum staff, particularly Ben Shapiro, who kept in touch with us, tracked our progress and guided us along the way.
After months of ups and downs, research and planning, we delivered our social action project. Our team delivered a series of workshops to empower young women from Hideaway Youth group in Moss Side, Manchester. Our main objective was to empower young women in deprived areas through developing their skills and confidence. We used our existing connections with Cath Brown at Skilful Conversation who talked about how to recognise imposter syndrome workshop, and how to overcome it. We also collaborated with the University of Manchester Public Speaking Society to develop public speaking workshops.
In our My Future-Self session, the panel, consisting of our team and a female mathematician, we shared our university experiences and insights into our studies to stimulate the girls to think about their future. I distinctly remember some of the participants, aged 15-17, were unaware of many issues within entering higher education. We busted some myths including that you have to be wealthy to attend university or that university is reserved for people doing medicine. We had an impact on young women in our community by making them discover their potential. The project received incredibly positive feedback from the participants and group leaders.
I could not be more grateful for Parliamentors, it challenged my existing preconceptions of social action and politics and developed my leadership skills. It wasn’t an easy process, but the insights I’ve gained were invaluable and unique. Personally, I gained the confidence that who I am, my faith and experiences, and what I have to say can contribute to transforming the society I am part of.
The irony is that our team’s aim was exactly to empower young women, yet through this process I became empowered myself. Each of us is sometimes inhibited by doubts, but we must learn to embrace them and use them as driving forces for our social visions.
Unfortunately, with the developments of the Covid-19 outbreak, we were forced to cancel our last face-to-face workshops. We even considered adapting our last workshop to an online seminar, so that our mission was accessible to every woman. This made me think about how the lockdown has transformed leadership, and how we revaluate the role of technology. Governments, religious institutions, and organisations have been forced to adapt and cater for the needs of its members. In a time when physical contact is restricted, social media platforms have proven to be essential in keeping us informed and carrying our voices simultaneously.
Lastly, I would like to thank F&BF staff, MP’s and participants who have supported us and our project. It is through opportunities like this, that the message of inclusion, integrity and positive relations continues to be advocated in our community.