Work experience opportunity: meeting Claire Coutinho

By Ria Manvatkar, work experience student

On Monday 4 July, I had the privilege of visiting the Houses of Parliament and interviewing East Surrey’s MP, Claire Coutinho.

Work experience student Ria with Claire Coutinho

This was a great experience as, not only did I interview Claire and discuss issues relevant to us in Tandridge, I also observed questions in the House of Commons from the gallery. This allowed me to get an insight into what Claire and other MPs’ lives are like, as they juggle their responsibilities to both their constituents and their party, with all the other parliamentary goings on.

A warm welcome to refugees

Firstly, I talked to Claire about the Ukrainian refugees that have arrived in her constituency, and we discussed the warm welcome that has been extended to them. She described how she was ‘blown away by the generosity of constituents’ as they have taken Ukrainians into their homes.

In fact, as of Monday, 1,284 Ukrainian guests are now living in Surrey. I find it heartwarming that the people of East Surrey have been so hospitable, and this sentiment was clearly echoed by Claire. Furthermore, Claire was clear to thank those who have also contributed in different ways, such as the coffee mornings, language classes and local support groups that have been organised. It is also important to be aware, Claire reflected later, that in East Surrey we also have ‘families from Afghan, families from Syria’: there is a lot going on within her constituency.

Coronavirus: the long term impacts

In addition, we discussed the long-term impacts of COVID-19. Members of the community will be pleased to hear Claire acknowledging that a clear impact of the pandemic for many people was the ‘severing of ties between them, their families and their local communities’, referencing the loneliness many people felt and are still feeling.

In response to this, Claire and her team are about to launch The Friendship Project. This is a fund that will donate to local charities to ensure the communities in Tandridge and across East Surrey that were affected by this continue to be supported as lives return to normal.

Young people in Tandridge

I then questioned Claire about the problems facing young people today, as this feels extremely relevant to me and my peers. Following the tumult that the last few years have entailed, it was good to hear that she understood our situation: ‘the peace and prosperity and stability I grew up with doesn’t seem to necessarily be there any longer.’

I think events such as the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and ongoing global warming have left my generation with a sense of discombobulation and powerlessness. Not knowing what the world will look like when we are adults, if there even is a world left when we are adults, has left us not only with anger but also with discomfort and, in some cases, an increase in apathy when approaching current events and life changes.

Therefore, the fact these difficulties are being noticed by people in power, such as Claire, is reassuring and stabilising for us. She ended our interview by discussing how important it is to create and find a ‘path not only to prosperity but also to happiness’ for young people within East Surrey (and beyond). I think this is an important message to remember for all of us, as too often we only focus on the negatives.

As I left Portcullis House and the Houses of Parliament after my fascinating but exhausting day, I felt as though I had gained a new perspective on her role within Parliament, as she clearly works long, relentless hours. Despite this, it seemed to be rewarding work and I would like to express, once again, my sincere thanks to Claire and her team for allowing me to visit and interview her as part of my work experience with the Tandridge Independent.

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