Forida is pursuing her MA in Human Rights Law at SOAS, University of London. She also works part-time at InGenius-Prep as a graduate consultant. She previously read History for her undergraduate degree at Cambridge University, Peterhouse. Between her degrees, she worked for the local government in the ‘Child Protection and Court’ team at Wirral Council. She participated in the Young Local Authority Awards 2022, presenting and campaigning on issues such as period poverty. In her spare time, she does pro-bono work for the human rights charity Amicus and serves on the advisory board for Upreach.

Political participation, political organisation and political research – all things politics! A Masterclass with Dr Jess Garland.

On the 27th April 2023, the Patchworkers had the privilege of meeting Dr Jess Garland. I was lucky to be able to chair a meeting for the first time which was a confidence booster to my public speaking skills. 

Dr Jess Garland is the Director of Research and Policy at the Electoral Reform Society. She is responsible for research into topics important to us Patchworkers, notably: examining whether young people should be given the vote at 16, the impact of voter ID, the need to elect the House of Lords and the need to have local authorities in the UK elected by proportional representation. I think most Patchworkers agree that this Masterclass was politically apt, considering local elections in the UK were a week away. These topics also deeply resonated with me, especially as voter ID has been shown to disproportionately affect some groups with protected characteristics, a clear violation of human rights. 

Much of the Masterclass discussion centred around exploring the wealth of experience Dr Garland has gained within the political sphere, from being a former Senior Political Adviser to a Shadow Cabinet Minister to becoming a political researcher. 

It was great to hear about the rollercoaster journey she had into the political sphere. We found it reassuring that finding your way into politics often is not a clear path, and that a variety of experiences and responsibilities in different fields can be incredibly valuable in aiding your career journey. It was clear that the best thing we could do in the hunt for our professional development was to seize opportunities that take us away from our comfort zones.

In some respects, this is the only way we can truly learn to what extent we are willing to push ourselves. 

One section of the Masterclass that was particularly pertinent to my own career was regarding approaching research work. As a research assistant for Coram International, I have often found politics to be a barrier to the research I complete. In contrast, for Dr Garland, politics is at the centre of her research and the changes she aims for. It certainly has me thinking more about the role politics plays in implementing research and policies.

In the second half of the Masterclass, Dr Garland broke down the working style of Parliament, which for many of us demystified the system significantly. At the same time, she showed us that politics does not always have to be seen through the confines of Parliament. Politics is much more than that. I agree with the notion that we could all use more political education, as the session personally highlighted the need to fill in the gaps that exist within our democracy to improve our political system. This requires constant dialogue to create change. Hence, I look forward to striving towards helping to make better and favourable policies to improve the operations of democracy, particularly through continuing to break down political terminology for young people. 

Finally, it was great to see that in the aftermath of the Masterclass, a healthy civil debate was sparked amongst the Patchworkers on our views on lowering the voting age to 16. While we each had varying perspectives and opinions, in the spirit of Patchwork values, it was great to be able to have that conversation to understand people’s experiences, views and expertise on the subject. I am looking forward to having more of these conversations in future Masterclass sessions. 

– Forida Parvin, 2023 Masterclass Participant