Neighbourhood Mediation: Resolving Disputes and Improving Resident Engagement

Scott McIver Articles

Neighbourhood disputes are common and can cause a great deal of upset and bad feeling between people. And, when research suggests that 42% of people currently have an ongoing issue with their neighbour1, it’s a problem that’s all too familiar for a lot of us.

Common issues may include arguments over parking spaces, boundary disputes, and cleanliness of communal areas, although by far the number one reason neighbours fall out is noise. 48% of neighbour disputes are reported to be because of noise nuisances1, with pets, loud music, and low-level ASB being the most common of this kind.

And, while none of these may seem like major issues to begin with, through our experience over the last twenty years, we often find that people follow the same patterns of behaviour that could lead them towards needing mediation.

For example, when we approach conflict of this kind:

We often leave addressing the issue until it is simply too late: only when we get to the final straw, do we shout over the fence or confront them on their own doorstep
• There is an expectation of a win/loss outcome, so conflict is approached with aggression and a determination to make sure that we are the ones who “win”
• We often find ourselves retaliating in a petty “tit-for-tat” way – for example, turning up our own music to give them a taste of their own medicine – rather than addressing the conflict in a constructive and positive way

This is where mediation can come in, giving both parties a chance to walk towards conflict more constructively, to listen to what each other has to say, and to come up with a shared solution that is beneficial for everyone involved.

And, due to the structure, aims, and objectives of mediation, it can lend itself incredibly well to resolving neighbour disputes. For example, during the process:

• Each person can see and hear from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, how the other has been affected by the dispute, helping to build empathy and understanding
• We can defuse anger and frustration in a non-damaging way, through a structured process with boundaries in place, that won’t have repercussions down the line
• We can use re-framing to shift blame to responsibility, move away from past events to future actions, and shift from positions to underlying interests

And, in the past decade, more and more local authorities and housing associations have begun tuning into the benefits that neighbourhood mediation can offer.

Here at UK Mediation, we run several Service Level Agreements with large housing associations, as well as regularly delivering our accredited neighbourhood mediation training for forward-thinking organisations. This way, they can have their own internal panel of neighbourhood mediators, on-hand and on-call to resolve disputes at the earliest possible opportunity.

One such client, Derwent Living, has seen great success with their customer mediator project, whereby residents work alongside staff to resolve neighbour disputes between tenants. We first trained them back in 2014 and we have since carried out multiple deliveries of our Level 4 course to both residents and staff, in order to train them to resolve neighbourhood disputes.

Customer Engagement Manager, Mitch Allseybrook, explains how the project came about and the benefits it is having for their customers:

“Previously at Derwent Living, we had an external mediation service that just wasn’t quite working out. We started looking at different ways that we could deliver the service, initially thinking that we could use both staff and customers. We had a lot of interest and, because of this, we held a competitive interview process which UK Mediation helped us to deliver, to find suitable candidates.

One of the big positives of our project is the fact that we have our customers working side-by-side with our staff members. The staff bring a bit more knowledge about our policies and procedures, but I think the most valuable element is that we have customers who perhaps empathise a bit more with the parties who are in dispute. They live on our estates, they know some of the situations that arise, and they can talk from real-life experience. Having both of these really complements each other and is one of the reasons that this project has been really successful for us.

Together, our mediators work on a range of neighbourhood disputes, but some of the most common issues are noise nuisances, disputes over parking, and shared areas. However, quite often, it can be a clash of lifestyles and all it needs is a mediator to get them together, find some common ground, and talk them through how they can go about rectifying the situation between themselves.

And, the project, from our point of view, has been fantastic in terms of results achieved. Most cases where they get to the point of actually having a mediation session, we normally get a successful conclusion. The stumbling block is usually convincing them that mediation is something that will be useful for them, but it’s normally a positive result all around when they buy-in to the process.”

 

Besides the obvious benefits for residents, Derwent Living has also gained national recognition for the project. Their mediation team were announced as Regional Winners of the TPAS Tenant Engagement Awards in 2017 and one of their customer mediators, Russell Slaney, was shortlisted as a Tenant Champion in the 24 Housing Awards.

To put it simply, conflict is common. And wherever we have to live alongside, above, or below other people whose values and lifestyles may differ from our own, disputes are possible. Mediation is a great way to resolve conflict between neighbours in a way that gives us full control of how we choose to manage and resolve our own conflicts.

1‘Top 5 Neighbour Disputes and How To Resolve Them’, FindLaw, 2013.

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