I’d never been to the Palace of Westminster until I was asked to attend the BIS Permanent Secretary Awards in January this year. These annual awards celebrate innovation and excellence as demonstrated by Civil Servants across BIS. The Digital team, led by Marilyn Booth, was part of a project that had been shortlisted for an award for innovation and inter-team working for the launch of the Consumer Bill of Rights consultation. Marilyn was away at the time, so I attended the event with Sneha Patel (pictured) from the BIS Press Office.
Being a sucker for anything historical, I really loved seeing inside a building that is not only beautiful but is also steeped in British history and traditions.
Apart from the frescoes, the stonework and the Perpendicular Gothic style, I was particularly struct by the visual indicators that help you determine where you are. Apparently there is different wallpaper and carpet designs to help you spot whether you are in the House of Commons or the House of Lords. Rather useful if you’re pondering matters of state and tend to get lost in your thoughts. Or, like me, you read whilst walking (which can be an extreme sport in a city).
(If you’re also impressed by the Tudor badge wallpaper I photographed, you may be interested to know it costs £80 a roll.)
As I wandered about, trying not to look too much like a gawping tourist, I spotted a strange little sticker on one of the walls. When I got home, I discovered that this little toaster sticker was created by a group of street artists from Wolverhampton in 1999 who wanted to see how far they could spread an icon of an everyday object. Calling themselves The Toasters, they were part of the early street art movement in the UK and have managed to get the image of the little toaster all across the globe. Such is their success that they made a film about the project and they are still going strong.
You’d have thought I’d be horrified by this act of graffiti in an historic public building, after I felt so irritated by people scratching their names into the sculpture near where I live. But actually, I found I like it. I like the little act of subversion. I liked the fact that even an ancient building that is the heart of British government and the political establishment can’t escape the playfulness of artists.
Somehow this sticker encapsulates the need to bring that which is seen as outside and subversive into our existing power structures, even if it’s difficult and uncomfortable. It reminds us how important it is that all voices are heard, regardless of whether they are versed in the establishments vocabulary, etiquette or conventions. I’m not advocating that all groups should feel free to plaster historic buildings with stickers in order to lobby for their beliefs. But I do think this one example serves as an important reminder for those of us involved in communicating to and with the British public, that just because someone isn’t engaging with us in way or channels we’d like, we shouldn’t dismiss them.
I wonder if anyone else has spotted this little toaster and whether of not he’ll still be there in years to come. Perhaps in time he will seen as valuable as the Parliamentary art collection and have a little plaque of his own.