Winsom and I came out of the ex-council block of flats with huge smiles on our faces, looked at each other and grinned, delighted with our achievement. This had been quite a process! We are both volunteer mediators with Tower Hamlets Mediation Project and we had been dealing with this difficult and stressful mediation for several weeks now. Many times we thought of “throwing in the towel” but some kind of inner drive kept us trying to make another call to secure a visit. It had looked very bleak at times.
This particular gentleman didn’t seem to want mediation initially. There was a dispute with neighbours and there had been some angry threats thrown around.Our goal was to at least help people feel heard and calm the situation down. Mr. B- we cannot reveal his name due to confidentiality of the mediation process- seemed angry and believed he was justified in his actions. Truthfully he seemed angry at the world, including us. Finally, he had given us permission to visit him in his home. The transformation that occurred from the angry and verbally aggressive man that met us at the door to the friendly and joking fellow that we left was nothing short of amazing! The joint session with his neighbour didn’t happen but the anger and danger of violence was absolutely aborted. We had previously visited with his neighbours as part of the process and they also were keen to avoid any further conflict. We were so pleased. That is the reward of community mediation!
Winsom and I are two of the more than fifty mediators now volunteering with THMP. Tower Hamlets Mediation Project was setup through the coordinated efforts and vision of Irene Grindell (IGRC) in partnership with Global Law Firm Reed Smith as part of their Responsible Business Programme was THMP’s first client, benefiting residents in Tower Hamlets who could now access free community mediation and giving the newly trained mediators an opportunity to practise their skills.
This was, from the start, a collaborative effort, Reed Smith being instrumental, as well as the number of external volunteer mediators who joined the project when the project expanded. THMP was invited to the LBTH anti-social behaviour panel which gave them the opportunity to offer mediation to other social landlords in the borough as well as the police. The role of professional mediators like Winsom and I was to support where the situation was not suitable for the very capable but less experienced Reed Smith mediators.
Many people look at mediation in terms of a win or lose goal. In community mediation, I see it in a different way. Many times, conflicts are deeply entrenched, especially when it has been on going for years, so the usual process of mediation, bringing people face to face to help them communicate is perhaps overly ambitious. If we can get both of the parties to meet us and talk about their “side of the story”, especially their needs, and we can help them to feel heard, and understood, people are often less resistant to finding a resolution. Mediation can help people get to a more conciliatory place where the anger, frustration and resentment are appeased, so that IS a WIN. It means that they can move on with their life as opposed to being stuck in the conflict and letting it rob them of their life. Conflict will often do that, completely overtake someone’s waking thoughts and even dreams and brings undue stress, worry and insecurity.
The image that comes to mind is that of a small battle field where people are in continual skirmishes, back and forth, and after the individual sessions with the mediators, there may not be a “peace agreement” as such, but there is a TRUCE. And that has to be applauded and recognised. It means that the “sting” has been taken out of the conflict and that there is “relative peace”. When two or more parties have been “at war” for years, I would absolutely declare that a WIN.
IF PARTIES ARE WILLING
MEDIATION IS ALWAYS THE BEST OPTION
TO RESOLVE DISPUTES
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This article was written by Toni Jenkins. She is the director of Early Dispute Resolution Hub https://edrhub.co.uk , a coordinator of the Mediators Peer Group and an associate at IGRC.