Civic mediation: notes on a workshop        

By Paul Burns, Mediator


I attended a workshop on civic mediation at the SCCR conference in February presented by Sam Tedcastle and Abdul Rahim from WWF and Centre for Good Relations.

The Centre for Good Relations (CfGR) arose after race riots in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford. Mediators from Mediation Northern Ireland were asked to train local people in the practicalities of mediating in areas where there’s conflict between communities.

Civic mediation isn’t politics but it can be used to discuss political ideas or create space to question or challenge organisations policies. It’s not anti-racist, anti-sectarian etc, and doesn’t exclude any party to a conflict. If people who hold such views are involved in the issues, CfGR feel they need to be included in discussions.

During the presentation I noticed similarities with the mediation we do at amber with families. Focusing on relationships is key for us, when underlying relationships and communication are improved it makes it much easier to sort out everything else and reach sustainable agreements.

Just as civic mediators are not political we don’t have a party line on parenting style, but if participants wish to discuss or question it we provide a platform. Also we examine how family structures and cultures work, open them to question, and look for new or improved ways that work for everyone.

We cannot select family members with ideal characteristics for conflict resolution, but they are very recognisable as ones that make mediations a bit easier if clients already have them or we can help draw them out

Feeling unheard, naming elephants in the room, putting agendas on the table, all sound very familiar. Where we differ is the scale of what we are doing and type of the relationship.  We are dealing with families with family bonds, love, and histories. Civic mediation with communities of possibly hundreds or thousands but also with loyalties, loves, hates and histories

I left the talk encouraged we are pulling in the same direction but from different angles and at different levels. Communities are made up of families and one day a young person who’s experienced our mediation service might become one of those community leaders that can contribute to a civic dispute in a positive way

To find out more about the work of the Centre for Good Relations please visit their website –

Paul Burns, Mediator

Paul Burns has worked as a mediator with Cyrenians amber service since January 2009. In that time he has worked with around 200 families and has learnt a lot about how parents and teenagers interact. In 1997 he trained as a volunteer mediator with Sacro’s mediation and reparation service (now restorative justice) mediating between people accused of offences and the people harmed. After 3 years volunteering he graduated to a paid job and over 9 years gained much experience and a SVQ in mediation, before moving to Amber. Prior to working as a mediator Paul worked as an architect and illustrator.

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