West Sussex Mediation Service

How and why was West Sussex Mediation Service started? – our service was the brainchild of a Crime Prevention Officer in Horsham back in around 1999-2000 (Nigel Tickler) who, through some research, determined that about 5% of frontline Police time was spent going to repeat calls to the same addresses/neighbourhoods regarding neighbour disputes, giving words of advice or ‘banging heads together’ but not having to ‘feel collars’. However, this was not addressing the underlying causes of those conflicts. He believed that by forming a mediation services these cycles of conflict could be broken and the demand on Police time reduced. He secured some ‘pump priming’ funding from the Police, Council and WSCC to train 9 mediators and launch the service. We now have 50+ mediators and cover the whole county. In addition to the police, the bulk of our referrals are self reported and from housing associations, the council and others. As well as community mediation which is free of charge, we also cover intergenerational disputes, family (pre-divorce) mediation, workplace mediation and civil mediation and these are currently being delivered online when self distancing requires it.

How important are donations and fundraising for your organisation? – We don’t have a high profile and provide our confidential services quietly in the background. We are not the sort of charity that individuals would naturally gravitate towards. This makes fundraising difficult. We have a very small office staff – our service co-ordinator, Nick, plus three part-time colleagues who help manage the 330+ annual referrals – hence the challenge of fundraising support as we don’t have a team of dedicated fundraisers. Every pound we receive is important to us. We don’t waste money on gimmicks or extravagances. We do like to show funders that we are doing our best to self sustain. Covid-19 has affected our income, like so many other charities and all our community mediation is provided free of charge.

Are you a registered charity? Yes, WSMS is a Registered Charity (1084592). We are part of a Pan Sussex Mediation Alliance formed of ourselves and three other charities who cover Brighton & Hove and East Sussex. We share good practise, resources and make joint funding bids. In 2020 we were awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

Here’s an example of what we do:

Case Study (Community Mediation)

The case concerned the use of a small patch of grass between two sets of houses, within a T-shaped close of about 25 houses. Boys were in the habit of playing football on the grass, using walls, a tree, a pole and a Sky junction box as markers. The boys, aged 10+, sometimes numbered up to 10. Neighbours were disturbed by shouting, alleged swearing, possible bullying, and the frequent arrival in their gardens of footballs, which the boys called to ask for, sometimes many times in a session. There were incidents of damage to parked cars. The complainant parties felt unsupported when they complained to the police or the council. One party in particular contacted the council and the police frequently.

Mediators visited the aggrieved parties; one party was very cynical about mediation, which they saw as a waste of time. The other party was eager to find ways to manage or improve the situation. Mediators also visited three parties, whose sons played football on the patch of grass, and who made the case that their sons were too young to go further away, and that they weren’t doing any harm.

A Joint Meeting involving five parties is always a bit daunting. In this case, a sixth mother of a footballing boy turned up unexpectedly after about half an hour.

It started rather tense, with the complainant who didn’t rate mediation making a bid to dominate, but the process held; everyone had their say, and then discussion ensued. The parties all traded views and ideas without the need for mediators, gradually arriving at what was practical and enforceable, with a recognition of what was outside their control (boys coming in from other streets to play there).

As well as some suggestions being adopted in the final agreement, to the satisfaction of all, the parties agreed to several types of communication. Mediators agreed that it had all gone much more smoothly than they could have hoped.