This case involved two young couples, living in two house-type flats (a house divided into two flats, with separate entrances.). Upstairs lived a young woman whose boy-friend was about to move in, but this had stalled because of the conflict with the downstairs couple, recently married. The young woman upstairs had lived there about three years, the downstairs couple had moved in a few months previously. They had been on good terms when they first moved in, especially the young women, who both had health issues.
Relationships had broken down over accusations of noise, DIY, dogs and dog’s mess, verbal abuse, use of the garden, and more. The young woman upstairs had stopped using her part of the garden, although she had worked hard to plant vegetables earlier in the year. She felt intimidated by the others’ dog and the barbed wire and fortifications in the garden. The couple downstairs felt they had been as helpful as they could and that all their efforts had been rejected.
Mediators visited the young woman upstairs and the couple downstairs, and listened to their stories. They were all willing to come to a mediation session, but it was quite difficult to find a date that everyone could manage. We met at a local community centre, in a room with a flipchart in one corner. The young woman upstairs brought her boy-friend (although we had not met him in person, we had had a telephone conversation with him). There was a mediator/ observer, as is usual practice for joint meetings.
The session began as usual, with an offer of refreshments, introductions, ground rules and ‘uninterrupted time’ for both sides to tell their story. Then there was time for questions and discussion, which got quite heated. The garden issues seemed to be the most pressing for both sides, but it was difficult for the mediators to visualize the situation. It suddenly occurred to them to get a piece of flipchart paper and a marker pen and place it on the floor between everyone. Soon everyone was drawing the house, the garden, the fence, the gates. There seemed to be two ways of dividing the garden, lengthways or widthways, with different consequences.
Suddenly one of the young women felt she needed a break, so we arranged to continue after 10 mins. The young couple from downstairs seemed a long time – had they given up and gone home? Fortunately they did return and it became clear that the reason for the delay was that they were discussing a radically different solution. When they returned, they drew it on the flipchart paper, and it was clear that it met everyone’s needs. It involved building a new fence, lengthways for half the garden, to keep the dog in, leaving the young woman upstairs with her garden intact, and able to access it without running the gauntlet of the dog. Both sides agreed to contribute to the fence – one providing the fencing, the other the fence-posts.
This solution could not have been achieved without mediation – and without the flipchart paper and marker pen.
Julie Cox, Service Manager. Tel: 0117 9415379 / 07534 188396 or E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com