Julia Mortimer

Hastings and Rother Mediation Service (HRMS) help people find practical solutions to seemingly impossible problems across East Sussex. They help resolve conflict in communities and within families and provide training in conflict resolution to enable people to develop the skills they need to solve disputes and lead happier lives.

In addition to manager Nicola Hawkins, who continues to run the service that she set up in 1995 in response to a Hastings Borough Council request, there are five members of staff. The service currently has 16 trained volunteer mediators – and they want more.

I spoke to Gilly Wood and Becky Sperring of HRMS in their bright, open, welcoming office space, about what it takes to be a mediator.

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What types of mediation do you offer?

Neighbourhood Mediation (NM)
Volunteers and paid staff work with neighbours in conflict and help them to listen to each other and find solutions.

Intergenerational Mediation (IG)
Volunteers and paid staff provide help for young people and their parents/carers who are experiencing difficulties to resolve problems, improve communication and strengthen family relationships. 

Family Mediation
Professional mediators help couples who are separating plan how to parent successfully in the future and how to resolve issues such as finances and property.

Anyone can find themselves in conflict either with their neighbours or within the family. A wide range of issues are referred for neighbourhood mediation such as noise, anti-social behaviour, boundary disputes, children’s behaviour, animals, parking, hedges. HRMS understands that a range of factors can contribute to people’s problems: long term unemployment, debt/financial pressure, ill health, poor mental health and drug and alcohol abuse all impact significantly on families and can lead to issues in the home and between neighbours. Last year around 150 NM and IG cases were referred to HRMS by the Police, Children’s Services, Housing Associations, Rother District Council (RDC), Social Services, Citizens Advice Bureau and the Court. Other people self-refer.

How does it work?
HRMS use trained mediators to provide an impartial and confidential service. Their approach is to provide an informal intervention which can help people who have become entrenched in a dispute to become unstuck. Mediation improves communication and reduces tension, abuse, harassment and sometimes violence. The role of the mediator is to facilitate discussions in a calm atmosphere, helping people to reach their own practical, realistic and achievable solutions.

Mediators work in pairs, so a newer volunteer is accompanied by a more experienced mediator.

For NM, each case begins with individual visits, usually in the home. The mediators are non-judgmental and listen to all sides of a conflict. After this visit, if everyone is willing, a round table meeting is held at a neutral venue and action points are agreed and written down. Four to six weeks later the mediators call the different parties and review progress to see if further mediation is required; however, meeting around the table offers the greatest likelihood of a lasting successful outcome.

IG mediation is slightly different – meetings can be held in our offices, client’s homes or in schools. These cases can continue for as long as there is a need for mediation.

What training is available?
HRMS training gives people new skills to resolve conflict which are often also useful in the wider world. They offer a 5-day training course in NM for volunteers. Volunteers then have the option to work towards Competent Mediator Status, a qualification which is accredited by the College of Mediators. After the 5-day course trainee volunteers carry out an observed practice session before starting real life mediation, initially alongside a member of staff.

Does it work?
Every year HRMS work with over 800 people and the number has grown steadily over the years. Last year around 85% of IG cases and 70% of NM cases resulted in ‘some degree of improvement’. In addition to individuals whose lives are substantially better as a result of mediation, housing associations, Sussex Police, RDC, Social Services and Citizens Advice are just some of those lining up to praise the service.

Do you have what it takes?
HRMS would like to recruit more volunteers. Gilly and Becky tell me that they are looking for people of all ages, genders and backgrounds. The most important characteristics are to be open minded and non-judgmental, to be a good listener and be able to keep what you hear confidential. And you need to be able to communicate, even if English is not your first language, you should be able to understand and be understood. Above all, you should want to help people.

You will also need to have some spare time and flexibility as the hours are not fixed.  Meetings are arranged by the mediators at times to suit all involved – a round table meeting requires up to 3 hours.

If you would like to get involved in this worthwhile and fulfilling service, contact HRMS at the address below. They will ask you to complete an application form and visit them for an informal chat.

The mediators provide an invaluable service to the people of Hastings and Rother – if you’re interested in meaningful work in the community, this could be just the opportunity you’re looking for.

HRMS are also looking to appoint a new trustee to their Board of Trustees, but that’s another story and further information can be obtained from the HRMS manager.

For more information about volunteering contact Gilly Wood, [email protected] or Becky Sperring, neighbourhood
@hrmediation.co.uk

For more information about being a trustee contact Nicola Hawkins, [email protected]


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