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By Jon Pratty

Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow launches Rethink Parliament project

photo shows a woman with glasses talking to a man wearing a suit

Rachel Gadsden and the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, at the launch of Rethinking Parliament.

Rethink Parliament, launched by the Speaker, John Bercow, on November 5, 2009 at the House of Commons in London, is an arts outreach project with a difference.

Through art workshops with artist Rachel Gadsden, people with mental health issues will be able to explore the political process and the relevance of Parliament.

Lead by the Parliamentary Outreach department, mental health charity Rethink is working with Rachel to run 16 workshops across England from November 2009 until July 2010.

Disability Arts Online is also a partner in the project. dao’s contribution will be devising a short video that sits at the core of each of the workshops. The film will tell the story of one participant and how she feels about Parliament, politics, and what they mean to her.

The project attempts to tackle some serious topics. People with experience of mental health issues often feel disempowered, alienated from society, and not represented or valued by the state, or by politicians of all kinds.

In the workshops, Rachel, Parliamentary Outreach and Rethink will open out some of these thorny issues by exploring portraiture with the aim to help workshop participants find a voice.

When the project ends, there will be an online exhibition of work created. You can view it here on dao, via the Houses of Parliament website, and the Rethink website.

photo shows a group of people holding self-portrait paintings

Participants in the first Rethink Parliament workshop in Ware, Hertfordshire, with artist Rachel Gadsden. Photo by Colin Hambrook/dao

Using art to tackle key issues was the subject of a 2008/9 pilot programme, Breaking Barriers, also led by Rachel Gadsden. Breaking Barriers was about the suffragette movement and the struggle to win women the right to vote.

Rachel Gadsen is an award-winning artist working in mixed media. Her prizes include the Dada Visual Artist of the Year 2005 and the Holton Lee International Disability Arts Prize 2007. You can read about her at

Rethink is a membership-lead mental health charity of 30 years’ standing. It aims to help everyone affected by severe mental illness to recover and gain a better quality of life. You can contact them via

Parliamentary Outreach was formed in 2008 with the aim of strengthening links between Parliament and the public. This is achieved through cultural programmes throughout the UK. Further information can be found at