Laura Pennells is one of a group of city lawyers who were recently given mediation training from a group of  ASM Plus trainers and who now mediates under the auspices of Tower Hamlets Community Mediation Service (THCMS).

​When you hear the words “PIN” or “BIN”, I imagine that you do not think of these as instruments or models for resolving conflict.  I am also fairly confident that you will not think of turtles and teddy bears as having anything to do with conflict management styles.

That was me until about 8 weeks ago when I joined the Tower Hamlets Community Mediation Service.  Since then, I, along with 15 others, have been training to become a community mediator to help resolve neighbourhood, housing and family disputes in the Tower Hamlets area.  The project has been set up by Irene Grindell, a senior mediator and conflict coach and #ASM Team Member with 17 years of experience in workplace and community mediation, restorative justice and conflict resolution.

Housing is very crowded in Tower Hamlets and a wide range of cultural and ethnic groups live alongside each other there.  The project aims to address friction early to reduce conflict that is otherwise inevitable and costly in terms of time, money and quality of life.  Community mediation is an extremely effective way of working towards solutions and, before this project, residents of Tower Hamlets no longer had access to community mediation services as they had been cut for lack of funding.  As of the 12th November, they will have us!

We have to undergo 30 hours of development training which culminates in an assessment day where we participate in mediation role plays.  Once we are fully trained, we will work in pairs on local cases at least once a quarter.  The mediations themselves will involve up to three meetings in the community – a visit with each of the parties to the dispute in their own homes and then a joint session with both parties at a neutral venue, assuming they agree to this.

Taking part in this training has allowed me to practice valuable skills, which essentially become the tools for effective mediation.  These include creating rapport, demonstrating empathy and using NVC (non-violent communication) and reframing techniques, the aim of which is to move parties forward in their thought processes and reflect more positive language.  These are also useful skills when it comes to managing teams, clients and, for the parents among us, stroppy teenagers (although I would not rule out toddlers either).  The training has been challenging at times, particularly when faced with extremely angry parties or parties that simply get up and walk out of a role played joint session!  But it has also increased my self awareness, in terms of my personal way of working and style of interaction with others, and listening skills.

This is an incredibly worthwhile project to be involved with.  It is a fantastic way to help in our local community as well as learn valuable skills to develop as a lawyer.  I hope we can help make a difference in the community once we have passed the course.