Ashford Mediation Service is a registered charity that provides free confidential and impartial mediation services to the residents of the Borough of Ashford who are experiencing conflict with others. They help people who are in dispute with their neighbours over noise, parking disputes, boundary disputes, general harassment, and anti-social and abusive behaviour. They also provide mediation services between parents and their children (over 7 years of age), between relatives, and for child access disputes. In effect, as a community run and community-led mediation project AMS can mediate in almost any kind of situation that does not fall directly into the jurisdiction of the Family and other courts (i.e. financial issues, contract issues, commercial issues, divorce settlements, etc.) Other than the cost of co-ordination/administration, AMS services are provided by trained volunteers from the community.
During the first lockdown, networking and collaboration became increasingly vital for those agencies that remained open in Ashford Borough, as was building trust between them; their relationships with public bodies in particular has become more inclusive and participatory. AMS launched a new initiative to ‘Keep Ashford Talking’ (KAT) because they believe that a community that opens up the channels of communication between one another, will be able to better address the difficult issues that face all. Though spearheaded by AMS, KAT involves partners including Kent Police, Ashford Borough Council, Kent County Council (especially Social Services), Restorative Justice, Citizens Advice, Ashford Volunteer Centre and many, many more local organisations.
AMS were fortunate enough to not close, unlike many other public and VCS agencies but increasingly they found themselves handling enquiries from all manner of people requiring assistance but who could not access it. They were able to develop a ‘listening ear’ initiative which enabled them to signpost people to the right place, if mediation was not the answer.
Due to shielding of self/or family; key service nature of paid employment; increased levels of carer responsibilities for family; etc. only one-third of volunteers were available to mediate but AMS agreed to try to stay open. Their mediation although usually face-to-face, was able to continue online. They were able to establish an enhanced triage and listening ear process. This helped ensure every called identified a pathway to resolve their issues. As one of the few remaining agencies open, they could increase their public sector engagement.
The enhanced triage and listening ear process to help ensure every caller had an identified pathway to resolve their issues, whether that be through AMS services or through another identified agency. Their plans for the next 3 years to expand outreach to young people and to more disadvantaged and stressed communities, were now immediately needed given the increased levels of conflicts and disputes that are occurring.
AMS finances are a little odd at the moment. Whilst they’ve been successful in getting funding in to help them with their COVID-19 responses, getting in the extra resources to keep the core costs covered has been increasingly difficult as everyone seems to focus on COVID-19 survival rather than the “what next?”.
AMS are #NeverMoreNeeded because conflicts and disputes are reported as being at an all-time high during these times of increased stress, anxiety and lack of personal control over our own lives. Health & well-being is severely compromised and no doubt this will get worse with Lockdown 2 now escalating and likely to be affecting AMS for months at least. And these situations occur everywhere that people exist together, or are reliant upon public services that are not tailored to needs.