By Megan Harris
At first I thought it was some sick joke, created by my colleague to wind me up as I was leaving our Parliamentary office early for the afternoon.
I told him to not be so stupid and to stop playing games, but panting- he had just sprinted up three flights of stairs- he insisted this was not a joke. Any doubts I had vanished when another colleague came crashing through the door.
The police had shouted at staff to get inside and undercover. Gunshots had been fired on the Parliamentary estate. That was the extent of our knowledge.
Overall, our building was in lock down for five hours. In the beginning, after hearing about the gunshots and not knowing if there was still an imminent threat, we barricaded ourselves inside the office and waited. The televisions streaming the news acted as our main source of information, allowing us to piece together the grim details of what had happened outside our window.
Within two hours, people were moved from areas within the Parliamentary Estate into our building. Piled up in the corridors were Researchers, Journalists, Interns, MP’s, Caterers, Estate Staff, students, just to name a few.
The Parliamentary Machine may have juddered to a halt, but slowly the cogs began turning again.
Staff continued to work off laptops, perched precariously on their laps where possible, Researcher’s scribbled down notes by hand on paper, members of the media continued their jobs off their mobile phones. Those lucky enough to have an office in the vicinity offered comfort to those around them in true British style: endless cups of tea. People were determined to continue as normal, to not allow one man’s vile actions to fracture the respected working machine of Parliament. Whilst MP’s were trapped inside the House of Commons chamber for safety, their staff continued as normal where possible, regardless of the fact that the building they were working in was currently under lock down and amidst rumours of a second attacker on the loose. The only thing that hinted to peoples fear and worry was the faint but lingering smell of sweat in the corridors.
An attack on Parliament and those who work there is an attack on the epicentre of our British democracy, and an attack on the values of freedom of speech and expression that the British public hold so dear. Over the next few days, despite the devastation the attacker caused, Parliamentary Staff were determined to continue as normal. Nine o’clock the next morning, they turned up and continued with their jobs. For as soon as we live in fear, as soon as we take a longer walk to avoid Westminster Bridge, or even avoid the tubes for fear of an attack, then those who want to divide and make us live in fear, have succeeded.
On Wednesday, a week after the attacks, I witnessed Police officers, Emergency workers, tourists, Parliamentary staff, and hundreds of members of a Muslim Youth Association stand side by side on Westminster Bridge to pay tribute to those who had died in the attack. The message that I feel they portrayed was clear: that we are a united Britain and we will not be intimidated by acts of terror. Instead, we shall simply Keep calm and carry on.