Whenever proponents of community mediation extol its virtues they rightly explain that it provides a very timely option for the resolution of such issues as neighbour and boundary disputes. Particularly when commenting on boundary issues, the cost of going to court is emphasised. Additionally, it is noted that those involved in individual disputes retain control and that because they have direct involvement in any agreement that is reached, there is a much greater likelihood that the terms thereof will be adhered to. Advocates for community mediation rightly point to its excellent track record and very high success rates.
In my experience, there are many in the commercial and business worlds, including some mediators, who question whether such considerations have any relevance to them. They may have no experience of something such as a neighbour dispute. Accordingly, in separating “commercial” from “personal” they see community mediation as a manifestation of some sort of utopian ideal, something to be admired but given no credence.
This is not universally true. I am aware that in some instances, the City of London funds mediation initiatives. However, the possibility that a community mediation can be as difficult to resolve as a mediation in the commercial sector is not universally recognised and, in many instances, the hidden costs of a community dispute e.g. through police or social services involvement may be overlooked.
People involved in community disputes of one form or another often opt to go to mediation because they literally have nowhere else to go. Aside from them not being able to afford legal fees and/or protracted court proceedings, unlike some of their commercial counterparts, they do not have the option of walking away and putting something down to experience.
Often, cases that community mediators encounter involve long-standing disputes that have caused untold misery and, in some instances, real hardship and suffering. Some have wider implications and impact not just on individuals but on the community at large. The sense of disillusionment, suspicion and mistrust that can be engendered can affect people’s health and their ability to sustain helpful, productive lives. Knock-on effects will be noted in the work setting, given that an individual’s productivity is affected.
Volunteer generated but nonetheless properly funded community mediation schemes have a value and a word that goes far beyond the resolution of individual disputes. For instance, the sense of well-being that these schemes engender means that local people will know that they have an easily accessible option for dispute resolution. Community spirit and cohesiveness can be maintained. The hidden costs that arise from police and emergency services’ involvement and action by bodies such as local authorities and housing associations will be reduced, something that will very positively impact on public finances and individual Council Tax payers.
In short, community mediation makes good commercial sense and its beneficial wider impact should be readily acknowledged by all. Very far from any notion of utopian ideal, community mediation delivers.
Principal Director of ASM PLUS, civil/commercial, workplace, employment, family and educational mediator and trainer with a judicial/legal background. He has knowledge and expertise in dispute resolution in a wide range of areas and disciplines and mediates online.