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Calm Connect 2023: A Voice, a Choice, a Chance for Change.

Calm Connect 2023: A Voice, a Choice, a Chance for Change.

We are delighted to share an insightful review of Calm Connect 2023, written by Calm Mediation’s new CEO Ed Proctor. The outstanding event featured expert speakers from criminal justice, education, health and local government, providing a chance to be part of inspirational talks, demonstrations and best practice reflections. “It was an opportunity to share best practice and to remind ourselves of the power of community mediation.” said Ed Proctor.

Over one hundred delegates gathered on an unseasonably warm October afternoon at Regents Park University to participate in Calm Connect 2023, London’s largest and most diverse community mediation networking event.  Organised by Calm Mediation, the event showcased the very best of community mediation and conflict resolution with speakers drawn from criminal justice, education, health and local government, along with Calm Mediation’s experienced team of coordinators and practitioners.  It was an opportunity to share best practice and to remind ourselves of the power of community mediation.  From restorative justice for victims of crime, peer mediation in schools, to resolving neighbourhood, workplace and family disputes; delegates were treated to inspirational talks, demonstrations and best practice reflections from service users and mediators alike.

Restorative practice author, consultant and former head teacher Chris Straker gave an inspiring keynote address, on his experience of strengthening democracy in schools and their wider communities through restorative approaches that have the power to transform culture and improve educational experiences and outcomes for all.  His pearl of wisdom was to record baseline data on how bad things once were, because they are easily forgotten once significant restorative change occurs.  Best captured perhaps by his observation that before restorative interventions a common worry was how to safely disarm a knife wielding student compared afterwards to the challenge of remonstrating with a student for flouting school uniform rules by sporting white training shoes.

We heard from two sixth-form students at Bacon’s College, in South-East London, who trained as peer mediators to resolve disputes among younger pupils as part of a long-running partnership with Calm Mediation.  They saw peer mediation as not just an extra-curricular activity but ‘more of a movement’ that was embedded in the culture of their school.  It built self-confidence and empowered them to apply their skills in defusing and resolving conflict not just at school but also in their families and wider communities.

The Restorative Justice (RJ) team at Calm Mediation, Julie Clark, Janet Clark and Zoe Attfield, explained the process they follow in working with victims of crime and offenders to help all parties concerned to move on with their lives.  Two specialist RJ facilitators and a participant reflected on a recent case and in doing so gave a valuable insight into the care and preparation that goes into holding a safe, secure and positive case conference.

We heard from Community Mediator of the Year, Sarah O’Connor about the importance of understanding neurodiversity when mediating disputes and from Dave Walker, Calm’s Director of Mediation, who called on organisations that really want to make a social and economic impact, without spending the earth, to aspire to be ‘conflict neutral’ as well as ‘carbon neutral’.  Dave’s award-winning community conflict resolution experience makes him the ‘go-to’ person for aspirational organisations as well as those that find themselves in the midst of a crisis.

The Neighbour resolution team at Calm, led by John Naldrett and Kai Duffy discussed the work they do in mediating disputes in social housing settings, supported by Daniel Bygrave, Lead Community Protection Officer at Greenwich Council.  The key takeaway from that session was not to dither and delay in making referrals for mediation and to consider mediation as an early intervention.  Much better to damp out fires before they really take hold than to face the challenge of extinguishing an out-of-control inferno.

Family mediator, Ursula Little, outlined the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on low-income families and the challenge of meeting their increasingly complex needs within legal aid rates that have stagnated for twenty years.  To continue providing this valuable service to the community, to the high standard expected by clients and demanded by the family mediation team, leaves Calm Mediation and other providers with a binary choice.  Close the service or subsidise the shortfall.  Calm is committed to its family mediation service and is leading the way with other mediation providers in campaigning for legal aid reform to ensure the long-term survival of the service.  Family mediation saves tax-payers millions of pounds each year by diverting costs away from the family court system.  Even if you ignore the positive outcomes achieved for families and children, the economic case for better legal aid funding for family mediation should make it a treasury no-brainer.  Jeremy Hunt and Rachel Reeves take note!

Calm Mediation has a long and proud tradition of providing high quality and affordable training, developmental support and accreditation for its panels of mediation practitioners and volunteers.  Director of Development, Freddie De Luca, ran through the training programme for the year ahead and briefly introduced Calm’s fast growing workplace mediation scheme which is designed for public and third sector employers and their workforces.

The programme ended with Chair of Trustees Chris Pickard paying tribute to the seventeen years of service given by retiring Chief Executive Corinne Rechais, noting her outstanding contribution, embodied by the strength and depth of the Calm Connect network itself.

The final word was left to incoming CEO, Ed Procter, who takes over from Corinne on the back of a twenty-five-year career, leading organisations dedicated to the delivery of legal services, dispute resolution and regulation, in the media, sport, criminal and civil justice sectors.  In reminding everyone of the harm and cost caused by badly managed and unresolved conflict, Ed called on all those present and beyond to join him in taking the work of Calm Mediation to new heights and new places by empowering communities of all kinds to resolve conflict and disputes in their own way and on their own terms.

Ed Procter is the new CEO of Calm Mediation. Previously he was CEO of independent press regulator Impress and of sport specialist arbitration and mediation body Sport Resolutions. Before that he was Director of Legal Aid for the South-East of England and earlier in his career worked for the Sports Council, Probation Service and in the advertising industry.

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