The Core of the Problem!

Apple tree full of applesThis case study outlines how various neighbouring families resolved problems between them using a restorative approach:

We went camping for a week towards the end of the summer. Before we left we took a look at our six little apple trees lined up along the wall of our small garden behind our terraced house. This particular year they were covered in apples, especially our favourites, the Coxes, Russets and Bramleys. They were organically grown and had a taste quite unlike shop-bought apples, and we looked forward to an autumn of munching home-grown apples.

On our return we saw that the trees had been stripped bare. The apples weren’t ripe, so it seemed to us an act of pure vandalism. We were devastated. We suspected some lads in our street, one of whom had previously (but many years ago) taken some apples from us. However, we were reluctant to go to the parents, in case we were wrong in our suspicions, and this then created bad feelings. We thought about reporting the theft to the police, but felt they would not be able to do anything. If it was our neighbour’s son, we did not feel very good about him acquiring a criminal conviction.

Then we found out through our daughter and the ‘school grapevine’ that the apples had indeed been taken by boys in our street (although different stories implicated different boys), to play apple cricket! Then we worried about the possibility of our daughter being teased or called names if we took any action. We also felt the incident had caused a rift between us and our neighbours, and that we couldn’t talk to them or ‘look them in the eye’ because of our suspicions.

In the end we decided to ask the local community mediation service to look into the matter, to ascertain who had taken the apples and if possible to arrange a meeting to sort things out.

Two mediators rang and arranged to come round one evening. They listened to our story and also asked our daughter to contribute her views. Then they called on the three neighbours whose sons we suspected of taking the apples. It turned out that they were all involved, although to different degrees. When they heard how upset we were about the apples, they all wanted to apologise.

The mediators shuttled between the four families to arrange a date and time for a meeting. This took place a few days later in a local church hall, and included ourselves and our daughter, and the three sets of parents and their sons. Together with the two mediators and a third person from the mediation service, who made coffee and arranged the room, the gathering included 15 people altogether.

The mediators asked us to outline our view, and then asked each boy in turn to say what happened. We could see it wasn’t easy for them, as they told us the details and mumbled their apologies. They said they hadn’t realised how important and special the apples were for us. We realised they couldn’t bring them back, or afford to replace them all, so we asked them to bring us a bag of eating apples and a bag of cooking apples at some point in the autumn. We also asked if they could help clear some undergrowth from the back alley behind our house. This all got included in a written agreement which we all signed.

It turned out that at least one set of the other parents were hurt that we hadn’t gone straight to them in the first place, and asked us to do that if there was ever anything else of a similar nature. We agreed that we would.

The next week was a school half-term holiday, and the boys cleared the back alley as arranged. A few weeks later, first one and then another rang the doorbell to deliver a large bag of apples, before dashing away in embarrassment. It was a great relief to have it all sorted out so that we could put it behind us and get back to the good relationships we had enjoyed with our neighbours before.

Julie Cox, Service Manager. Tel: 0117 9415379 / 07534 188396 or E-mail: /