A grieving father, a tenancy at risk,
loud and lairy visitors and night terrors were just some of the additional
information on the referral form for a neighbour dispute. We blinked and
re-read the details again before picking up the phone to have a conversation
with the referring officer. Further
discussion revealed that these two neighbours had been in dispute for nearly a
year. The problem began when a new tenant moved into a residential block of
flats. The young woman was causing a disturbance that was affecting the man
living above. He had agreed to take part in mediation on the understanding that
he would not sit in the same room as his neighbour. How often have we heard
Was the referral suitable for mediation? After speaking with the referring officer and discussion between mediators, we decided to make contact with the parties to arrange their individual sessions. It was a rainy Tuesday morning when we set off on our drive to meet Tony in the upstairs flat and Ella downstairs. We arrived in plenty of time and revisited our preparation, reminding ourselves of the roles and responsibilities we had agreed on in the delivering the individual mediation sessions.
Ella lived in the flat below Tony and when she answered the door to us, she appeared anxious but pleased that someone was there to help her sort things out. It transpired that when Ella had first moved in, she had been experiencing a lot of problems with her mental health well-being and had spent some time in hospital as a result. She admitted that initially she invited a friend round on a regular basis who had issues of his own and inevitably, they ended up having a drink. However, soon word got around and other acquaintances would turn up on a regular basis and she didn’t know how to say no to them. Before she knew it, things had got out of hand and people would turn up late at night, demonstrating rowdy behaviour and if she ignored the door bell, they would start knocking on the windows to gain entry. Things were getting out of hand, she was losing control, and this was all building on her anxiety.
After some heated exchanges with her neighbour and a conversation with her housing officer she recognised that things had to change and tried to take a more assertive approach with her friends, as she recognised that their behaviour could result in her losing her tenancy and she would end up homeless. She began to make small changes and things were better, but there were inevitable slip ups, generally through no fault of her own, but this exacerbated the situation and her neighbour’s frustration with her.
We spent some time talking about her the situation and its impact on her health, well-being and self-esteem. We explored her hopes for the future and helped her identify what she needed for this situation to be resolved, so she could feel less anxious, happier and more comfortable in her own home. We explained how reaching an understanding and resolution with her neighbour might prove helpful in resolving the problem and reducing her anxiety. By the end of our meeting she said she felt calmer, more at ease and optimistic that the situation could improve. She agreed to move forward to a mediation meeting.
We visited Tony in his flat upstairs. Tony explained that he lived alone, his two children visited and stayed regularly during the week. However, this had been affected by Ella and her friend’s behaviour downstairs and the children no longer stayed because they were disturbed by the noise. Tony was not at all happy about it. For Tony, it was even more upsetting because shortly after Ella moved in one of his children unexpectedly died tragically and he felt that he had not been able to have any peace to grieve in his own home or spend the time he needed with his other children.
He said over the last few months, the situation had improved, and he was disturbed less by noise from downstairs, however he felt really cross that she had been so inconsiderate during a really difficult time for him and he was adamant he would never speak to her again because she knew what he was going through and still did not show any thought to how her behaviour may be affecting him and his family.
As the meeting drew to a close we
explained the meeting options available to Tony through the mediation process.
He was adamant that he would not sit in the same room as Ella. We offered the option of a shuttle mediation
meeting as a way forward to help Ella and Tony develop understanding, identify
their key concerns and agree solutions in resolving the situation.
The following week we returned, the day much brighter and with an air of optimism to the planned shuttle mediation meeting. The parties had been briefed in advance regarding the process of shuttling, the timings and how to prepare to ensure they made the most of the opportunity it presented. A visibly more relaxed Ella greeted us and invited us in, she explained that she was keen to get started and felt confident that this would help her make a fresh start. We gathered her issues and agreed what we would say to her neighbour when we visited him next and the shuttle began in earnest.
Our trips back and forth over the space of the next hour and half helped the neighbours share key concerns, develop understanding, identify what they were willing to do for each other and make requests or changes. Ella wanted Tony to know about the night terrors she suffered from, as she was concerned they could be disturbing him. Tony was sympathetic and explained he did hear her but these weren’t an issue for him. His main concern had been the noisy drunken gatherings, which he acknowledged had all but ceased. However, there were still some concerns over visitors slamming the communal doors and knocking on Ella’s windows.
Quickly areas of agreement were identified, understanding developed on both sides about how they had been affected to varying degrees and a sense of relief that there was a way forward that had the potential to enable them both to live in their own homes in peace. We left each party with warm handshakes, a friendly smile and a sense of relief that the challenges presented by the case had not impaired the positive outcome for those involved.
My co-mediator and I got back in the car, started the engine and breathed a sigh of relief. Our experience tells us that bringing parties together in a joint mediation meeting is more beneficial in enabling them to develop understanding, reach agreement to issues and transform their conflict. But on this occasion, a shuttle mediation was the appropriate way forward. The shuttle had worked well for the parties as it enabled them to find resolution where otherwise they might not.
On our journey home we reflected on the complexities of each party’s individual needs. From a father who was still coming to terms with the traumatic death of a child, to a young woman whose own mental health had been fragile and how this had made her vulnerable to external influences. Despite their own personal difficult circumstances, each had found some inner strength and resolve, to find a way through the difficulties and focus on the future.