Place for Hope
In 2009, the Aviemore Conference launched Place for Hope. This was in response to a report at the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly a year before, which found a crisis among church leaders unable to mediate within and between their congregations.
Ruth Harvey was one of those present at Aviemore. Having been a regional worker for the Church, she observed first-hand the need for resources to tackle breakdowns in communication and to resolve tricky situations. After volunteering with Place for Hope, she began her work on sectarianism with the organisation in 2012 and since then has increased her involvement so that she is now the Director.
Place for Hope specialises in multiparty mediation, facilitating conversations between large and diverse groups. One of the things that makes them unique is that, along with a specialism in faith-based conflict transformation, each case is assigned to two volunteer practitioners. They seek to model and honour the diversity that they hope to promote, holding multiple perspectives in tandem and bringing a range of expertise and perspectives to each situation.
This emphasis on mutual respect can help to bring conflict back from the brink. Ruth gives the example of three individuals involved in a dispute which was potentially heading towards legal action. Through phone calls and face-to-face facilitated conversations, two practitioners were able help the parties move to a place of reconciliation in around three hours so that the individuals left not only having shaken hands but sharing a lift home.
Sometime the process might be more complex, involving more parties and requiring more time. When a rural town in Scotland was faced with hard decisions about which building to close before a pre-set deadline, they came to Place for Hope for help. Together they coordinated a range of small, medium and large group meetings, culminating in a public forum. No one wants their building to close, so in cases like this it is inevitable that some will feel dissatisfied with the outcome. However, by airing all the views and taking all the evidence into consideration, Place for Hope was able to host a space in which all felt involved and came to a mutually agreeable decision. The hope with this level of community involvement was that the decision would be ‘sustainable’ into the future.
Place for Hope recognises that reconciliation is not ‘one-size-fits-all.’ It might look different for every person who engages with it. But there are some signs that may let you know that it has been successful.
People will be more able to recognise and accept diversity, to celebrate difference. There will be room for forgiveness and compassion, in recognition that Christ’s forgiveness extends to all members of the community. There will be a ripple effect of peace radiating not just through those directly involved in the mediation or facilitated conversations, but in the wider surrounding community. As Ruth says: ‘Let’s dream big and deliver locally’.
Despite its name, Place for Hope is not actually a place. To this end they have embryonic plans for a Scottish parallel to Reconcilers Together, embedding reconcilers in every congregation. They would like to encourage and support all in leadership in our churches and faith communities to take part in all four of Place for Hope’s set training programmes. And asking the important question that as our networks of mediators and reconcilers grow, how do we strike the balance between work that is professional but not professionalised?
Ruth Harvey will be helping to co-lead module 4 of our Journey of Hope programme at Rose Castle. Our deadline to apply for 2019 is on November 2nd.