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Community Mediation and Community Development In Scotland

Over 3000 community conflicts in Scotland are resolved through Community Mediation each year. The NGO Sacro has developed a series of manuals for developing a Community Mediation service. The final manual addresses the role of community mediation in fostering community development. In this article, Ian McDonough, mediation adviser for Sacro, provides an overview of the manual with a link to the full-text.
Origins And Growth

 

 

Community mediation in the UK began to develop in the 1980s as a response to a startling rise in the incidence of reported neighbourhood disputes. In Scotland the first community mediation service was launched in Edinburgh in 1995, and the next ten years saw a period of rapid and sustained growth which was well beyond that experienced in the rest of the UK. There are now 31 services in Scotland, covering almost the whole of the country from large cities to small islands, and assisting with the resolution of over 3000 community conflicts every year.

 

Community mediation in Scotland is a voluntary and confidential process of conflict resolution. It has no formal links to legal processes, civil or criminal, and people in situations of conflict either elect to undertake mediation themselves, or have mediation suggested to them by a wide range of agencies including housing workers, health workers and police. They share the following characteristics:

 

  • Their main areas of work are conflicts between neighbours, conflict between young people and their families, conflict in schools, conflict in the workplace, and conflict between groups in the community.
  • Individual neighbour disputes usually comprise around 80-90% of their work.
  • Services are managed either by independent voluntary organisations (NGOs) or by Local Government.
  • They operate in civic society and are completely distinct from restorative justice services which take referrals from the criminal justice system.
  • Many services use both paid and unpaid (volunteer) mediators.
  • Services are mainly funded from local and national government finance.

 

Reasons For Growth

 

 

This rapid growth in Community Mediation has come about because of a number of factors that are distinct from the experience in the rest of the UK.

Of particular importance is the history in Scotland of successful voluntary sector/government partnerships, and a relatively strong climate of voluntary civic participation in issues of social concern. Crucial factors included the following:

 

  • A commitment from the Scottish Parliament to work towards all citizens of Scotland having free access to Community Mediation services
  • The willingness of the Scottish Executive and Local Government to think creatively about neighbourhood conflict
  • The aspiration of Scottish NGOs such as Sacro to promote constructive conflict resolution across Scottish society
  • Funding being made available from local and national government at levels which are sufficient to assist in developing and sustaining quality services
  • The establishment, through government funding, of a national Community Mediation Consultancy & Training Service, managed by Sacro.

Possible Future Developments

Community Mediation in Scotland is now an established process for dealing with conflict and reducing anti-social behaviour. Until recently most activity has focussed on neighbours in conflict, with some activity in schools and workplaces, but In recent years the Community Mediation services have increasingly been focussing on working with broader communities, such as undertaking mediations between large groups and mediating between local organisations where there are difficulties.

This is in part a reflection of an acknowledgement that work between individuals is only part of the answer to conflict in our communities, sometimes treating only the symptoms rather than the causes. For people with little power or status, living in poverty and in poor housing conditions, problems with neighbours may be something they can afford to expend only limited energy on:  the dispute may exacerbate their other problems considerably, but its resolution is unlikely to remove them.

Increasingly Community Mediators in Scotland are looking at increasing their work with disadvantaged communities, and believe that it is possible to do this without losing impartiality in their work with individuals. The challenge may be whether it is possible to work at the same time towards two distinct but connected goals:

  • To advocate for the development of more harmonious and equitable communities
  • To assist in the resolution of individual disputes while strictly avoiding advocating for the position of either side.

 

The Community Mediation Consultancy & Training Service welcomes feedback and contact from individuals and agencies interested in the interface between mediation and community development.

 

Ian McDonough

Sacro Community Mediation Consultancy & Training Service

21 Abercromby Place, Edinburgh EH3 6QE

Tel. (0131) 624 9200 Fax. (0131) 557 2102

Email imcdonough@cmconsultancy.sacro.org.uk

 

 

 

September 2006

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