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.