Rebecca Farren interned with Neil Findlay MSP for 4 months with an Parliamentary Internship. These internships give disabled people a chance to get experience of parliamentary research and processes in the Scottish Parliament. Here she tells us about working at parliament, settling in to Edinburgh, managing PAs and adjustments in work, and where she is going next
I first saw the Inclusion Scotland Parliamentary Internships pop up on my Facebook feed in Autumn 2016. I thought it would be a cool opportunity to apply for in the future, but I never imagined that an offer of accessible accommodation would see me move from Durham to Edinburgh and start an internship with Neil Findlay MSP the very next year!
Prior to my internship, I spent 5 years at university and then I did 9 months of European Voluntary Service with ENIL, a European Disabled Person’s Organisation in Brussels. I didn’t have the energy or the stamina for part-time work at 6th form or university, so before the internship I’d never had a paid job. As a result, paid work had acquired a kind of mythical status for me. I had lots of skilled volunteering experience but no success in previous job interviews. This led me to assume that if you had a paid job then a) you must have to be an expert at it, and b) you must have to work super hard all the time.
I was relieved to find that this isn’t the case at all! Of course, to be successful in a job you do need relevant skills, knowledge and a strong work ethic, but it’s a learning process. Most people have paid work as part of their everyday life and nobody is superhuman. I realised that I was more than capable of fitting into a busy work environment and I added value to the team.
There was a lot to learn, but it all clicked into place fairly quickly. I found that my degree, 4 years of student democracy and 9 months working next to the European Parliament equipped me with a lot of the specialist knowledge I needed to succeed. I loved getting to focus most of my time on researching a Member’s Bill, which could go on to make a real difference to people. Alongside that I was using my writing and editing skills on motions, speeches and press releases. Getting to use all of my key strengths on a variety of tasks was brilliant!
I learned that working under pressure doesn’t have to mean juggling 10 deadlines at once. For me, it meant sending my feedback on a speech within a few hours of reading the draft, so Neil could deliver it in the Chamber that afternoon or submitting a time-sensitive motion by the end of the day, so that it would still be current and have an impact. I also learned that part-time work is definitely the way forward for me. Working a 30-hour week was manageable but still considerably tiring. I’ve resolved that no job is amazing enough to be worth doing on a full-time basis! My team was incredibly understanding when I needed to take time off with illness and fatigue. It proved to me that it is not a fault I need to work on, but an effect of my impairment that can and should be worked around. I’m confident now that I can expect employers to provide reasonable adjustments relating to it in the future.
It wasn’t just the work, but my experience in Parliament and Edinburgh as a whole that made the internship so special. I had the privilege of watching First Minister’s Questions in the Debating Chamber every week, I had the joy of walking through the impressive Garden Lobby on the way to Neil’s office every day and I had the pleasure of being able to smugly show my family and friends round the stunning building I got to call work. I already miss it and I will always have fond memories of the time I spent there.
Living independently in Brussels was an amazing experience but extremely challenging so I was hoping for a slightly easier time with my move to Edinburgh. In Belgium, I only had a certain amount of control over my Personal Assistance. The internship was the first time I set it up and managed it completely independently, so I was nervous about how it would work. Thankfully, I found 2 amazing PAs and it all ran exactly how it should. This is a huge confidence boost for me, as I know that I no longer have to rely on my parents for care and I can organise my own assistance from scratch whenever I need to. This, coupled with accessible accommodation and public transport, meant I had no limits and I had a stress-free and immensely enjoyable few months. I found my new normal and it was fantastic.
Moving forward, the internship has reaffirmed that I want to focus my career on creating a fairer society through social research. In September I will be going back to university to do my Masters in inequalities and social research and I’m so excited to get back to studying. Afterwards I might work as an academic or in a charity, but I’m definitely planning to come back to the Scottish Parliament one day!
For anyone thinking of applying for a Parliamentary Internship with Inclusion Scotland, I can only say go for it! Even if you don’t think you’re qualified, you probably know more than you think. It may be overwhelming at first, but the support is there for you to do a really good job and have a unique experience. I’m only jealous that you get to experience it all for the first time!
Inclusion Scotland is funded by the Scottish Government’s Equality Unit to deliver the National Disability Internship Programme “We Can Work”. 30 internships will be created for disabled people per year as per the Scottish Government’s A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People Delivery Plan. You can find out more about the plan by clicking here.