As the day dawned on Wednesday 15th January, twelve DE&S Year 12 Welbexians departed for their day trip to London to visit the Ministry of Defence and the Houses of Parliament.
After a long five hour journey with many delays, we were graced by the beautiful sight of our gleaming capital. Upon our arrival at the steps of MOD Main Building we were met by Mr Andy Gillman MBE, who leads the MOD’s Education Outreach Programme, and whom we have had the pleasure of meeting before at Welbeck, when he came to talk to us about the structure of the MOD and how it works as a government department.
After passing the tight security checks we went to meet the three Old Welbexian DE&S graduates who would share their career experiences with us and join us on our visit to Parliament in the afternoon. Once in the setting of the beautiful Historic Room with precious paintings such as Salisbury's painting of the Burial of the Unknown Warrior, commissioned by King George V, Poppy Brooks (11e), Adam Hughes (13e) and Katie Tansley (13e) delivered excellent presentations which gave us valuable insights into opportunities which would be open to us during our university placements. Following these we were treated to a delicious lunch in the MOD’s canteen.
We then embarked upon a tour of the offices of the Service Chiefs and Ministers. We saw the offices of the Chief of the Air Staff; Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston; the First Sea Lord; Admiral Tony Radakin; and the Chief of the General Staff; General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith. We were also able to meet with Johnny Mercer MP in his office who is Minister for Defence People and Veterans and Member of Parliament for Plymouth Moor View. There he talked about how he wanted to ensure veterans were protected and also his role in Parliament. We also briefly met Sir Stephen Lovegrove who is Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Defence and we were lucky to have a few minutes with Lt Col Brian Johnston who is the Min (DP)’s Military Assistant and an ex-Welbexian. We then visited Henry VIII’s Wine Cellar, which has been preserved in its original state for over 400 years. It still contains the original wine barrels from the Tudor era!
After leaving Whitehall, we walked down to The Parliamentary Education Centre where we were introduced to our guides who led our tour of the Palace of Westminster. After an informative discussion about the roles of the two chambers of Parliament we headed into the public seating area of the House of Commons and watched a first-hand debate about the green policy and carbon reduction goals laid out in the Queen's Speech, followed by oral questions in the House of Lords. This was all extremely interesting and almost surreal to be able to watch in person.
Once we had exited the House of Lords and discussed what we had thought of the topics of debate, we moved to Westminster Hall which was built in 1097 and is the oldest surviving building on the Parliamentary Estate, having even withstood the Great Fire of London. We were at this moment informed that stood just behind us was Sarah Clarke who is the first female Black Rod.
Once back at the Parliament Education Centre we took part in a workshop in which we learned about the different types of voting systems before having a hands-on experience of splitting into groups and forming our own political parties and policies which we then presented in our groups. We had votes allocated to us as though we were standing in a mini-general election, so we could see the benefits and disadvantages of the First-Past-the-Post system compared to a proportional voting system in local constituencies, which was an enlightening experience. During the workshop we were honoured to receive a visit from Edward Argar who is the MP for Charnwood. He engaged in a discussion with us about climate change, the effects of Brexit and the decision to close Welbeck. After thanking Mr Argar and our guides at the education centre and Mr Gillman and his team we boarded the coach for the long journey back to College.
On behalf of all of the students, we would like to extend our sincere thanks to Mr Gillman and his team for organising an unforgettable day and Poppy, Adam and Katie for giving up their day to come and talk to us. We would also like to thank Mr Crookes, Mr Sykes and Ma’am Tipton for accompanying us on the visit. It was a truly fantastic experience, and we very privileged to have been able to visit parts of the MOD which very few people get to see.
Alec Mathison and Jenya Joshi