Young offenders in south London built bridges as well as a garden in an inter-generational restorative justice project, writes Dean Woodward
Restorative justice in its purest form is the face-to-face interaction of victim and offender. It is effective in consequential thinking and therapeutic for victims to bring closure.
At the beginning of my time in Lambeth, south London, the police constable responsible for restorative justice was a purist. He and I would have heated debates about the benefits of indirect reparation. He would insist that, unless the victim and offender were in the same room, it was not restorative justice because only the offender benefited.
The quest to deliver restorative justice that is meaningful to the victim and offender, within the context of delivering it in bulk and on budget, has been a challenging one. At Lambeth we have had high-profile schemes, such as young offenders curating an exhibition on the South Bank in 2009. We have also had the less inspiring, such as re-painting every bollard and park bench in the borough.
However, it means that, in this year of economic austerity, with its mantra of “doing more with less”, we have achieved an efficiency in our restorative justice work – although it must be said that the catalyst for this efficiency was the bygone era of hitting endless targets rather than cutting costs.
One of the most successful of these projects, in my opinion, has happened in Lambeth, where there are pockets of elderly residents whose fear of youth crime is disproportionate to the risk posed. Subsequently, we chose those areas to start our inter-generational reparation project.
With support from the Youth Offending Service, the young offenders consulted the elderly service users and agreed to build a sensory garden with a mosaic art display on the external concrete wall of the Stockwell Day Centre.
Six months later the centre organised a lunch to thank the young offenders.
At the event there was a board of photographs displaying progress over the six months and service users were obviously happy about the transformation of their garden.
It was also evident that there was a genuine fondness towards the young offenders which had altered perceptions of many of the elderly service users.
It is clear the project has supported victims. The service users might not be direct victims of youth offending but, if a person – any age – changes their behaviour, reduces their social activities and lives with a fear that limits their life experiences, then they are a victim of crime.
Reducing fear of young people in a vulnerable group not only improves lives but is a small chip away at the massive rock of intolerance towards young people and young offenders in particular.
It will be interesting to see in the upcoming months whether the Big Society agenda, with its plans for a national citizen service programme alongside a drive for efficiency, translates into meaningful schemes such as this one being supported. Or will it become synonymous only with budget cuts and doing less with less?
Dean Woodward is assistant director of Lambeth Specialist Youth Services
This article is published in the 22 July issue of Community Care magazine under the heading How trust between young and old bloomed in garden
Community Care inform subscribers can find a guide to jointly delivering services: youth offending teams and children’s social care