Guest Blog: True stories of people, young and old, who found a way to deal with the harm they had been caused
Guest blog by Inger Lowater and Pam Gough
The second annual Restorative Together conference was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate how far restorative work in Wiltshire and Swindon has come in the last year: Local people spoke about their experience of taking part in restorative justice (RJ) and how it had helped them to recover from the harm caused by crime; and workshops enabled delegates to learn more about restorative approaches.
Restorative justice, which is one restorative approach, is an alternative way of dealing with an offence or incident. It puts those harmed by crime or conflict - and those responsible for the harm - in contact, enabling everyone affected to play a part in finding a positive way forward.
The process can work alongside the criminal justice system, but is also increasingly being used in our communities, including schools, children's services and workplaces. When appropriate, it can also be used instead of criminal proceedings.
Restorative Together was set up in 2016 to support victims of crime across Wiltshire and Swindon and is commissioned by the county's Police and Crime Commissioner, Angus Macpherson.
Mr Macpherson told the 120-strong audience at Trowbridge Rugby Club: "The delivery of restorative services in Wiltshire and Swindon is about providing a high quality service that is sensitive to the needs of individuals.
"I am committed to putting the victim at the heart of everything Wiltshire Police does, so I am pleased that our work in this area has been recognised and we have achieved the nationally recognised Quality Mark from the Restorative Justice Council."
Supt Phil Staynings, Wiltshire Police crime prevention lead, also spoke to the packed audience and explained that: "Restorative justice allows victims to have a voice. It enables them to tell their offender about the true impact of the crime, which can empower them to move forward in their lives. We know that RJ also gives offenders the opportunity to be accountable for what they have done, and this can begin a personal transformation to address their offending behaviour."
Delegates heard that Wiltshire Police is one of the first in the country to implement restorative justice approaches as part of its initial training of all new recruits.
The Force currently has 346 officers and staff (including PCSOs, PCs, sergeants, inspectors and local crime investigators) and 30 Special Constables, trained to implement this approach to level 1. In addition, a further 24 officers and staff have been trained as level 2 restorative justice facilitators.
We celebrated the progress that Restorative Together has made over the past year in terms of the number of people trained to implement restorative approaches and the number of cases that have been facilitated, as well as the close working relationship that all the agencies in Wiltshire and Swindon have in this work.
Charlotte Calkin, from the Restorative Engagement Forum, spoke with impact about how restorative success should be measured. She shared a number of case examples, which highlighted that restorative justice is not all about people meeting face-to-face, but about empowering people and enabling them to move on in their lives in a more positive way. She emphasised that all cases are very carefully risk assessed, and that cases are only pursued if it is deemed safe for all parties.
Students from Sarum Academy in Salisbury, pictured above, entertained the audience by sharing how the use of different restorative practices in their school has helped boost their confidence and reduce bullying. Maxine Fox, the school's Head of Pupil Development & Wellbeing, who has spearheaded the approach in this and other schools, also spoke about the significant tangible benefits that restorative practices can bring.
She said: "The restorative approach requires all staff and pupils to be aware of the principles of the restorative process, and have the ability to apply them in resolving situations in their classes and around school.
"There are a number of outcomes which demonstrate the significant contribution that restorative practice has made to the wellbeing of our pupils and staff. These include overall academic outcomes, attendance figures, fixed term exclusions and numbers of days lost due to exclusion, staff illness which is stress related, anti-social behaviour and referrals to external agencies."
We were all touched by hearing the stories of Jo Berry and Sam Goldman.
Jo, who lives in Frome, knows better than most the positive effect that restorative justice can have. Her father, Sir Anthony Berry, was killed by the IRA in the bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton in 1984.
She agreed to meet the bomber Patrick Magee after he was released following the Good Friday agreement and says RJ gave her the chance to understand.
"It was important for me to know that he (Magee) knows the impact of what he did and that he chose to change afterwards," she added.
"I think he is still discovering the ripple effect of what he did all those years ago."
Sam shared her story about the healing she found through taking part in restorative justice and meeting the man who killed her father when she was 15 years old.
She said about Restorative Together: "Contacting them was the best thing that I could have done. They have been so supportive. I could not have asked for kinder people to help me though this journey. It was the scariest, most nerve wracking and most healing thing that I have ever done in my life. I look forward to sharing my story, and, hopefully helping others."
The audience was inspired and moved by our other speakers:
A local teenager bravely recounted how she was able to recover her confidence and self-esteem by working with Restorative Together facilitators after suffering a violent physical assault by a group of girls. She had been afraid to go into her home town after the assault. The restorative work she did enabled her to overcome this fear by making it possible for her to meet the leader of her attackers and share the full impact of their actions.
Katey Baker, a Wiltshire Police local crime investigator who has been trained as a level 2 restorative justice facilitator, spoke of a restorative case involving a shoplifter who, through her intervention, was made aware of the personal impact his actions had had on the security guard involved. His subsequent actions have shown that this experience has had a positive effect on his behaviour.
Two other Restorative Together facilitators, Angela Hughes and Paul Sunners gave interesting accounts of cases, one involving a perpetrator who benefited hugely from being able to share his regret and remorse for his actions (criminal damage and violent threats whilst under the influence of alcohol) with his victims, and the second, how shopping centre employees were able to communicate to a group of young graffitists the wider impact of their behaviour.
After lunch, informative workshops addressed the benefits of restorative practice in general (Charlotte Calkin), the empathy needed in order to make this successful (Jo Berry and Sophie Docker - both Restorative Together facilitators), and the powerful work being done in Gloucestershire by Great Expectations, an organisation which works with young people in danger of entering the criminal justice system, by putting them together with mentors who are ex-offenders.
In this workshop, we heard how impactful the work has been not only for the young people involved (who are given first-hand experience of custody and court cases, learn from offenders exactly what prison is like and hear about the physical and emotional effects of crime on victims) but also for the offenders/ex-offenders themselves. Among the speakers was an ex-offender and one of his young mentees, and all who listened were impressed by how positive the impact of this work has been for both of them.
The conference reflected the full range of benefits that restorative approaches can have on all parties involved across a wide range of crimes and within all types of communities, where good relationships are key, from schools to local neighbourhoods and businesses.
The Restorative Together partnership is excited to continue offering its restorative service to all those in Wiltshire and Swindon who have been affected by crime, or who need support to rebuild broken relationships. We look forward to sharing our further work next year.
Inger Lowater is Restorative Together Coordinator. Pam Gough is Policy Lead in the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon