Alexander Ave. Housing Members are Community Mediation Pioneers

‘There was a lot of power and gifts in the room:’ Peter Pula

LG 30 Alexander Amber

Residents of Alexander Avenue housing who joined a community gathering on Friday turned out to be a pioneering group in more ways than one.

“There was a lot of power and gifts in the room,” co-host of the gathering Peter Pula said.

The gathering was intended to be a first step in bringing a community mediation program to the housing complex and Peterborough neighbourhoods generally. So it was a pioneering effort in that respect.

“Blaming and complaining is the voice of our own helplessness — and we are not helpless.”
— Peter Pula

But rather than just unrolling the program based on outside experts’ theories about how it should happen, people who will be most impacted by the program — the “inside experts” — were invited to help shape it. This is also different from how most community mediation programs are typically introduced.

But the gathering ended up going even further on the innovation scale.

Drawing from facilitation approaches such as Appreciative Inquiry, Asset-Based Community Development and Peter Block’s Six Conversations, Peter starting by holding space for the dozen or so community members who participated to talk with each other about how they could create a better community together.

There was to be no blaming or complaining in the conversations. “Blaming and complaining is the voice of our own helplessness — and we are not helpless,” Peter said.

The conversation was also not about generating good ideas for other people — the Peterborough Housing Corporation, police, councillors, even other members of the housing complex — to do. But what might we, the people here in the room bring to life?

So much energy built up around this theme that it took up the entire gathering, right up to a wrap-up exercise that saw people writing down on large sheets what they could do next to make their dreams for their community a reality.

Ideas ranged from hosting monthly community gatherings energized by a similar kind of positive spirit to publishing a community newsletter for the housing complex to bringing in training on respectful communication.

Co-host Marion Little, who organized the gathering in partnership with the Peterborough Housing Corporation, said that what came out of the gathering was clearly what needed to happen.

In fact, it set the tone for a mediation program in ways that talking directly about the program might never have.

As the gathering ended, people expressed feeling hopeful and connected as well as more positive about the future of their community than they have in long time.

Watch the video below to see how how each person present felt as the gathering closed.

Marion has posed the idea of a follow-up gathering early in the New Year to see what emerges from the ideas and how residents might be further supported in bringing them to life.

In the meantime, she will draw on this and three other consultation forums planned in Peterborough Housing neighbourhoods to shape the mediation program, which is a volunteer-based initiative to support neighbours in solving their conflicts together.

Peterborough is launching free community mediation programs for the first time, though they exist in other Ontario cities, some for decades. Funding to start the program has been made available from the Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services. The John Howard Society of Peterborough is partnering with the Peterborough Housing Corporation and Peterborough Police Service to introduce community mediation in three Peterborough neighbourhoods as a pilot project. The program will be open to anyone in the community who requests it.

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  1. Pauline Harder

    Wow, Peter (et. al.) – I’ve been watching Peterborough Dialogues from the sidelines for a while now, and I’ve got to admit I’ve not really been sure what to make of it. Seemed a bit esoteric at times. But here is a really hands on, practical project that is so needed in Peterborough, in all corners of the city. I’ve been feeling a bit weighed down by the overwhelming number of bad stories in the news, and in particular the hateful, fearful, angry comments that often follow any story or posting online. It seems like so many people are just ready to write each other off with vitriolic comments that it makes you wonder if understanding and cooperation are possible. Turns out it starts by turning off the laptop and sitting down with people face to face. I really needed this story. Here’s to some good work, and hoping the project sustains its momentum and grows! Kudos, PD gang.

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