Neighbourhood disputes increase by 196% in lockdown

02/10/2020

In April, Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne awarded a three-year £200,000 contract to Sussex Mediation Alliance to provide an alternative to the criminal justice route for neighbourhood disputes. The group now receives referrals from Sussex Police and works to reduce conflict between parties, helping to lessen the burden on police time and resources.

During 2019-20 the alliance offered support to 693 people to resolve neighbourhood disputes ranging from noise complaints to harassment and parking disagreements. In lockdown months they have seen a 196% increase in referral numbers compared to the same time last year - supporting 285 people in this time.

Case Study: Mr and Mrs A have been living in their house in Sussex for five years. The B family moved in next door 18 months ago and started doing some DIY to make the garden a safe space for the children during lockdown.

Mrs A, who is often ill and stays at home was very upset by the noise and so went out to speak to her neighbour. This turned into a very heated discussion quickly with shouting and strong language across the garden wall. The B family called the police as they felt threatened.

A police officer suggested a referral to the mediation service, which all parties agreed to. During the mediation meeting both Mrs A and Mr B were able to talk directly to each other with the mediator’s support and express how the situation had been affecting them. The joint meeting enabled a plan to be put in place to cooperate as the work continued, so that their lives could be lived as normally as possible during the process.

After the mediation, Mrs A told the mediation service that she ‘felt a weight had been lifted off her shoulders.’ Mr B said that ‘mediation had given them a safe space to talk through all the issues and find a manageable way forward.’

The Sussex Mediation Alliance brings together four organisations who have been supporting local communities for over 20 years and understand the challenges they face. All mediators are volunteers who are trained to a recognised national standard.

They offer two different types of resolutions; mediation and conflict coaching. Mediation is a restorative practice that allows each person to explain how they are affected by what is happening and to hear how their actions are affecting the other person/people. Conflict coaching is an approach used where mediation is not possible, helping to build strategies to manage the situation. Both approaches have had a 76% success rate.

During lockdown Sussex Police and the Sussex Mediation Alliance have noticed heightened tensions within local communities and the frustrations of lockdown have undoubtedly led to more heated neighbourhood disputes.

Kathy Whitestone, Service Manager from the Sussex Mediation Alliance (Brighton) said: “We are here to support people to find peaceful ways to resolve issues with their neighbours so that they can feel comfortable in their homes and communities during this tense and uncertain time.

“Over the last few months, we have seen more cases where lifestyle differences play a part as everyone is spending more time at home. We have had many referrals about anti- social behaviour and noise and have noticed a sharp increase in the levels of stress and anxiety caused or made worse by issues with neighbours.

“Taking part in any mediation support is always voluntary and all meetings are confidential. The mediators do not take sides or make judgements about who is right or wrong but support everyone equally to find their own peaceful solution. Our goal is to support people to make decisions and plans to change their lives for the better. We are delighted to have a 3-year contract from the PCC and will be working with the Police teams across Sussex to make sure our service is accessible to those who need it.”

Neighbourhood policing team Chief Inspector Sarah Leadbeatter said: “We realise the impact of the pandemic on people’s lives and we’re working closely with partners to ensure the support is there for those who need it. A mediation service helps find solutions while de-escalating tensions that could easily lead to criminal actions. By helping neighbours resolve their issues the service enables us to direct our resources to targeting and preventing crime.”

Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne said: “We always knew that lockdown, and the added stresses and pressures of this pandemic, were going to have a negative effect upon many people’s home life. In some cases, the lockdown restrictions have amplified local residents’ frustrations, which they have then, unfortunately, taken out on each other. We have also seen a spike in reports of ‘anti-social behaviour’ as many neighbours called to notify police of large gatherings and neighbourhood ‘parties’.

“Undoubtedly, this has been a challenging time for everyone, and I’m pleased that the Sussex Mediation Alliance has been able to support communities in conflict, easing their situation and ensuring that police officers’ time is spent more effectively dealing with local criminals.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions the Sussex Mediation Alliance are providing support via telephone and video conference. All services are working to resume face to face meetings – you can find out more about mediation and the services on offer here: http://sussexmediationalliance.org.uk/

For ideas on how to respond to neighbour disputes watch this short animated video: https://www.bhims.org.uk/top-tips-for-neighbour-disputes/