Restorative Justice brings community together to help park grow
The future of a Southend park looks blooming thanks to support from the Essex Restorative and Mediation Service.
Southchurch Hall Gardens in Park Lane is now a place that families, visitors and of course ducks can flock to after a dedicated bunch of local residents got together to work with Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, Essex Police and local businesses to solve a number of problems that were turning the park into a no-go area.
They formed the Southchurch Hall Inspirational Parkers (SHIP). They now stage events, fund raise, litter pick and care for the wildlife.
The work was kickstarted after Southend-on-Sea Borough Council approached the Essex Restorative and Mediation Service – part of the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex’s team.
Manager Emma Goddard said: “In Summer 2017, we were called to work within in a park that was a venue for anti-social behaviour. Local residents and staff had concerns that people drinking in the park was affecting the wildlife, causing mess and driving the local community out. This had escalated and there was even evidence of drug use and prostitution.”
The team, who are experts in helping people to resolve conflicts, spoke to everybody involved including council staff, local shop owners, residents and even those who used the park to drink in.
Both Emma and her colleague Janet even spent a morning in the park sitting with the drinkers and discussed how their behaviour was having an impact on the local community.
Emma explained that the group genuinely did not realise what sort of problems they were causing. She said: “We invited them all to a community justice panel, which we held in the park itself. “Nineteen people attended to discuss the issues and we created an action plan. We helped the group work through the plan for the first three months with the idea of giving them the confidence to take it forward.”
It was a fantastic success and six months later, the team received the following feedback from one of the residents they had worked with:
“I have to tell you that you would not recognise Southchurch Hall Gardens, we only now get the lone drinker from time to time. The duck families have started to return to the pond and people are seen daily happily strolling around the park, from dog walkers to whole families even in the middle of this very cold winter.
“I can’t thank you enough for your very positive input; we get some wonderful feedback from people, thanking us and one person saying that the park has not been this inviting for years.”
Patricia Sampson, whose house backs onto the Gardens, was instrumental in getting the local residents into action. They formed the Southchurch Hall Inspirational Parkers (SHIP) and regularly carry out litter picks, organise events, care for the Gardens and encourage other people to respect and enjoy them. Patricia and her group have been nominated for many accolades, including the PFCC’s Community Safety Hero Award. They helped the park secure its first ever Green Flag award last year and provide advice and guidance to other community groups in Southend to help solve similar problems. The group recently arranged a Remembrance event in the park to commemorate Armistice Day by unveiling a memorial in the park to those who lost their lives fighting in conflicts.
Patricia said: “We are so proud of our park now. Even simple things like us wearing high vis jackets whilst litter picking puts people who want to carry out criminal or anti-social behaviour off. We organise events for local families and it is wonderful to see people enjoying this space again. It really has brought the community together and we cannot thank the Restorative team enough for helping us to make it happen. It really has changed our lives.”
To shine a spotlight on the work involved and to celebrate SHIP’s success, the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner’s office has produced a short film so others can learn more about how restorative justice helped. You can watch it here Southchurch Hall Gardens Project
Roger Hirst, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, said: “This project really shows what a difference the Restorative and Mediation Service can make to people’s lives. By empowering the community to help solve problems and hear all sides, everybody can make the changes they need to improve their communities. I’m so proud of the team for the work they have done here. The residents can be proud of themselves too. People really can learn from their approach to help make their communities better places.”