This site now acts as an archive only. For the latest news, opinion, blogs and listings on disability arts and culture visit

Disability Arts Online

> > > Rethink Parliament
a composite image of black and white image of portrait drawings

A composite image of portrait drawings made during a Rethink Parliament workshop. Photo © Rachel Gadsden

Colin Hambrook reports on an exciting partnership between Parliamentary Outreach, Rethink and dao.

Parliamentary Outreach have launched an innovative new art workshop programme, currently being rolled out across the UK with mental health group, Rethink – a mental health organisation whose remit is to provide support for individuals in recovery from mental illness.

Rethink Parliament engages with communities of disabled people, within the mental health arena, who have traditionally been disengaged from the democratic process.

Dao has partnered with Rethink Parliament in making a short film, which explores some of the benefits of the programme, from a user-perspective.

A deeper understanding of the parliamentary process is vital for disenfranchised communities in encouraging opportunities for finding the self-belief to engage with matters of state that directly affect their lives.

The two day workshop process, being run in Rethink centres throughout the UK over the forthcoming months, provides opportunities for detailed discussion of the history and function of parliament.

Parliamentary Outreach Officer, Becky Fawcett provides an excellent history of parliament, looking at the make-up of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. She explains the differences between parliament and government, going to great lengths to explain how the ‘idea’ of parliament differs from the processes of government.

Through setting a quiz, and discussing the words associated with parliament Becky is able to provide encouragement to individuals in understanding the value of engaging with the democratic process and looking at how their voices could be heard within the parliamentary process.

Discussion is placed within a context of creating self-portraits under the excellent guidance and tutorship of Rachel Gadsden. The idea of using self-portraiture is to provide opportunities for looking at self-perception, in relation to ideas about society as a whole.

Rachel’s artistic practice engages with the idea of visualising a universal voice. In the workshops she shares aspects of her personal and professional life in order to encourage the workshop participants to look at ways of using the artistic process to develop confidence in self-image.

An important part of Rethink Parliament is to provide participants with an opportunity to share feelings about parliament and to find words that encapsulate their understanding of what it means. Rachel encouraged participants to add their words to the frames of their self-portraits as a tool for understanding how collage can be used to add layers of meaning to an artwork.

Overall, the workshops provide participants with a valuable opportunity to share what can be complex and difficult feelings, underpinned by discrimination, and to develop artistic skills as a tool to engender greater self-awareness and self-confidence.

A big part of Rethinks’ impetus is to encourage individuals development through creating jobs, paid and unpaid, within their service, allowing members to build confidence through taking on responsibility to run services for others.

As a tool for individuals with a mental health history, facing extra barriers to employment, Rethink Parliament offers a valuable opportunity to understand the parliamentary process as a means for empowerment.

Watch the short video Disability Arts Online made with Parliamentary Outreach about the Rethink Parliament project: two participants tell their stories