Volunteering through the pandemic - Restorative Justice

Date: 29-03-2022

Volunteering through the pandemic - Restorative Justice

The selfless act of volunteering is not only helping to resolve conflict in Essex, but it is also giving volunteers a focus through the pandemic.

Essex Restorative and Mediation Service brings together people in conflict to give the opportunity for questions to be answered and for both sides to move on with their lives in a positive way.

A team of trained volunteer facilitators spend days, weeks and months communicating with both sides of a conflict before bringing them together – if both agree – to discuss the incident which has impacted them both.

They could deal with any set of circumstances, ranging from neighbour disputes and burglaries to sexual abuse and murder.

While the work the volunteers carry out brings comfort and resolution to victims and perpetrators, during the pandemic it has also given volunteers a focus.

For Sam Reid, who started volunteering four years ago, it gave her purpose when she was put on furlough for eight months from her brand manager day job.

She said: “While on furlough, this gave me an opportunity to upskill and learn something new. I started doing courses I never thought I would do, such as mental health first aid training, and looked into cyber crime and psychology to support what we do in our volunteer roles. It really gets you thinking about people’s behaviours. You learn something different every day.

“I have never done anything like this before, but I love it. I’ve never looked back. You get so much satisfaction from sitting a victim in front of an offender and getting them to communicate, seeing the victim start to heal from what could be a really serious crime. On the other side, the offender can realise what they have done and change their ways. It really works both ways.

“The satisfaction you get is amazing as you know you have made a difference.

“What I have learnt while volunteering really helps in my day-to-day life, both at work and at home with my teenage sons. I can handle situations far easier now.”

Retired teacher Tony Pennock completed his training just as the pandemic hit two years ago, meaning he had to immediately adapt to work within the new restrictions.

He said: “Lockdown made things particularly frustrating. But, I decided to keep going as without this work, some people would have no chance of turning their lives around. I find being able to help other people gives me a purpose in life.

“It is incredibly rewarding. Sometimes, you think ‘these people are never going to be able to talk to each other’. But, in the right circumstances, you can achieve considerable results you never thought could be achieved.

“Restorative justice stops crime, stops people going to prison in future and, therefore, saves money. If restorative justice can be a deterrent to crime and help victims to recover their lives, it is a win-win.”

Laurie Posner has volunteered for six years, having retired from his career in the criminal justice system, working for both the police and then as a magistrate.

He said: “We are completely impartial and sit in the middle. With criminal cases, we are trying to find answers for the victim and to get the offender to take responsibility for what they have done and to change their lives as a result. With cases such as neighbour disputes, we are mediating and trying to find answers to questions that both sides are looking for.

“This work hugely reduces reoffending. People come to terms with what they have done and take responsibility and so are less likely to reoffend.

“But, to a certain extent, I do it for me. I want to keep my brain going. I have always been involved in the criminal justice system and it was a way of continuing to do that and to have something to get out of bed for every day. It helped me through the pandemic.

“There’s an awful lot of satisfaction involved. Lives have improved as a result of what you have done.”

Tina Townsend joined the team almost five years ago, working volunteering around running her own business.

She said: “I have an office at home, so can work my volunteering around my job. I want to make a difference. I want people to be in a situation where they can live safely or get the answers they want.

“I also want to give back. I find it really rewarding. I think restorative justice is brilliant.

“If I didn’t have my own business to run during the pandemic, this would have given me the focus I would have needed.”

One case resolved through restorative justice was where a prolific burglar with 25 convictions behind him was brought face-to-face with one of his victims.

The victim was terrified to leave her house, but also scared to stay home as she feared she had been personally targeted.

In fact, when she met the perpetrator in person, she learnt that he had simply picked random properties with no thought for who lived there.

The facilitator who brought them together said: “For the first time in his life, the perpetrator heard the impact on his victim. He had had no idea of the harm he was causing. Having found out the terror he had caused, he started to turn his life around, got a job and a girlfriend. The victim was unaware the burglar had not personally targeted her. When she found out the real situation, she felt a lot stronger for it. The process made such a difference to both lives.”

During the 2020/2021 year –

  • 156 participants took part in restorative communication
  • Volunteers clocked up 680 voluntary hours
  • 100% of volunteers said they felt valued

Reducing reoffending is an important priority for the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner, Roger Hirst, and at the heart of their Police and Crime Plan. Restorative Justice is an effective tool in this drive to reduce crime and create the safe and secure communities we all want to line in.

Due to restrictions on face-to-face contact during the pandemic, the service was not able to offer the usual meetings and events in person.

Instead, the team had to adapt quickly to ensure they could continue with their work, albeit remotely.

“We remain very pleased and appreciative of the work of our volunteer facilitators; logging 680 hours of volunteering work and ensuring the service continued even in the face of a global pandemic and national lockdowns,” said Emma Goddard, Restorative and Mediation Service manager. “In a fast-changing world of lockdowns and social distancing, our team were quick to adapt to a new way of working, utilising technology to continue to deliver an effective service.

“The service could not achieve the results it does without their dedication.”

Alternative ways of working included –

  • Covid-19-free meeting spaces. Pre-pandemic, volunteers would meet with both sides of a conflict in person. To ensure safety for all, meetings were moved to online video platforms, with volunteers given guidance on how to set up meetings.
  • Online and telephone mediation. Volunteers were upskilled to hold meetings online and over the phone instead of face-to-face. Extra training was given on these alternative conflict resolution methods, including indirect communication and shuttle mediation.
  • Working from home. The office team moved to working from home during the pandemic, adapting channels of communication to ensure the service continued. Daily meetings and workload distribution were all carried out over video meeting.
  • PoliciesAll policies, risk assessment process and procedures had to be amended during the pandemic. Within four weeks, the whole service moved online.

Find out more about the Essex Restorative and Mediation Service at Home – Restorative Justice (restorativeessex.co.uk)

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