One of our sessions featured a report from Mediation Hertfordshire who have examined what’s happening in community mediation across the UK and has looked at how things have changed over the last few years. What is striking is that since 2008 the number of councils offering community mediation has plummeted from a high of 250 to 40. In Scotland there has been a similar picture with 28 services having been reduced to 13 today. The simple reason for the reduction is that, since 2008, local government funding has been reduced and, as mediation is not a statutory service, it has either been cut back or is simply not being funded anymore.
There is, however, some hope for the future. More and more people are recognising that mediation can help in a broad range of areas. In Hertfordshire a range of mediation services are now offered beyond the traditional neighbour disputes and family mediation to include new services that recognise the links between conflict and health, so that mediators are offering services complimentary to those run by GPs and others. In a recent pilot project mediators have provided conflict coaching to help people manage their conflict better and the results show improved health outcomes with reductions in the stress that can often lead onto other medical issues.
The value of mediation in such circumstances was highlighted by a case we discussed at the conference. An elderly couple were suffering from noise from the house above, to the extent that they felt they had been deliberately targeted and were very distressed. As a result of a meeting facilitated by a community mediator, they met the with the family above, who have a young child with ADHD. The first thing the conversation allowed them to see was that they weren’t being picked on deliberately and that the family had difficulties. It allowed the family to see that the elderly couple weren’t exaggerating the impact of the noise and crucially it led to conversation. That conversation involving parties talking, and more importantly, listening led to an outcome where the couple agreed to support the family through their issues. That involved buying a rug for them which would help to reduce the impact of the noise, and give them a more comfy front room. It also created a relationship where they could talk to each other without the mediator being there.
Hearing that story started a discussion about where else we might be able to facilitate such conversations, helping people to manage their conflicts better and having a positive impact on health. We might see that as part of contributing to a new social infrastructure that would allow for a whole new way of how we look after one another with the very positive outcomes that would bring. It’s an idea we are seeking to develop further but the pilot and report from Mediation Hertfordshire has got us thinking.
That tied in nicely with another of our sessions where Dr Anna Howard got us thinking about how we describe the mediation process and the people who deliver it. Too often we talk of mediation being an alternative or describing it in the context of avoiding something else like cost or delay. Isn’t it much better to describe mediation as way of helping folk resolve their problems by helping them to have a civilised conversation. As ever; much food for thought.
Graham Boyack, Director, Scottish Mediation