Success for Inaugural Conference of the Community of Restorative Researchers

The inaugural conference of the Community of Restorative Researchers was held on 7 July 2015, welcoming over 65 researchers, practitioners and policy makers.

On 7 July 2015 the School of Law, University of Leeds, welcomed over 65 researchers, practitioners and policy makers for the inaugural conference of the Community of Restorative Researchers.

The conference entitled ‘A dialogue on the role of state and non-state actors in the development, delivery and regulation of restorative practice in the UK’ was well received by the many delegates who came.

The Community of Restorative Researchers is an international, interdisciplinary research network, connecting individuals who work in the field of restorative practice in different capacities. It promotes an open, critical dialogue within the field in order to maximise the benefits and minimise the risks of the growing use of restorative practices in this and other jurisdictions. The objective of the event was to contribute towards these goals by enhancing communication and collaboration between key individuals and organisations in the field.

The event was introduced by research student and teaching assistant Ian Marder, who founded the Community. He spoke about the purpose of the event and network, as well as outlining some of the practical steps that delegates could take in order to use restorative principles and practices to their full potential. He suggested that this might involve the organisation of local, cross-sector events, as well as the application of delegates’ knowledge and experience to the arena of social divisions and reconciliation processes.

This was then followed by a discussion panel on the role of non-state actors in developing, delivering and regulating restorative practice. The panel was chaired by research student Roxana Willis from the University of Oxford, and included Ali Gohar from Just Peace Initiatives, Jon Collins from the Restorative Justice Council and Andrew Hancock from Darlington Neighbourhood Resolution.

The panel discussed the nature of community participation and the role of volunteers in delivering restorative practices, with Andrew speaking passionately about his experience of managing volunteers. Jon, meanwhile, discussed the role that his third-sector organisation plays in regulating the field, and Ali outlined his organisation’s work to update indigenous dispute resolution processes in Afghanistan and Pakistan so that they adhere to human rights values.

A second discussion panel debated the role of state actors in developing, delivering and regulating restorative practice. It was chaired by Lizzie Tiarks from Northumbria University, and featured Prof. Jonathan Doak from Durham University, as well as Nicola Preston and Becky Beard, experienced practitioners and strategists in the coordination and delivery of restorative justice at a local level. Jonathan drew a number of comparisons between the functions of the state in the jurisdictions of Northern Ireland on one hand, and England and Wales on the other. Based on their work in Thames Valley and Gloucestershire respectively, Nicola and Becky delineated the practicalities involved in implementation. Nicola also contributed some insights about the use of restorative practice in educational institutions, while Becky displayed her knowledge of the establishment and maintenance of restorative multi-agency partnerships.

The final session started with a presentation from Deborah Mitchell, a founding member of RJ Working CIC. Entitled Creating Restorative Collaborations, her engaging, provocative talk outlined both the enablers of, and barriers to, cooperation between the variety of statutory and third-sector agencies required to instigate and sustain a viable, local restorative service. “Handshakes are as important as documents”, she stated, “but someone has to extend their hand first”. For the remainder of the session, all of the day’s speakers and chairs participated in a final discussion panel, speaking about their varied experiences of collaboration in the pursuit of implementing restorative practices.

Feedback from delegates suggested that the day was highly successful: attending researchers expressed an improvement in their understanding of the pressures and constraints of implementation, while practitioners, project managers and policymakers articulated a growth in their desire to engage with academia. Both the range of experience and professions represented by attendees, as well as the positive, friendly atmosphere, were integral to achieving these ends. We have no doubt that relationships maintained at this event will play a central role in the development of processes and practices across the country in the years to come.

Finally, our thanks go out to the School of Law, who hosted and funded the day, and to Gramlich, a translation firm who provided some additional sponsorship. We would also like to thank everyone who spoke, chaired, assisted, advised, asked questions, photographed, took notes and attended for making it such an informative and engaging event. It is now hoped that the network will help to enable a series of local, cross-sector events to take place this autumn, before organising other events in the coming years, including a research dissemination conference in the autumn of 2016.

The day was dedicated to Prof. Nils Christie, a scholar from Oslo had recently passed away, and whose seminal writings (such as Conflicts as Property and A Suitable Amount of Crime) underpin much of the discourse in this field.

This piece was co-written by Ian Marder (Founder, Community of Restorative Researchers) and Megan Sharp (Network Intern, Community of Restorative Researchers)