How can we widen access to Restorative Justice within migrant communities?
This is a blog by Communications Officer Keeva Baxter and Development Officer Sula Blankenberg.
Why me?’s Development Officer Sula Blankenberg, and Communications Officer Keeva Baxter visited PBIC, a migrant community organisation based in Bedford, as part of our work on Project Articulate last week.
PBIC was established in response to migrants’ needs for support following an unexpected influx of Polish migrants into the UK in 2004. They now provide general advice in the native language of service users, provide ESOL classes, offer career advice, run social events and provide volunteering opportunities for people from Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Poland and other nationalities.
The visit was part of Why me?’s Project Articulate which aims to widen access to Restorative Justice for people with English as an Additional Language (EAL). We have partnered with Bedfordshire Victim Care, the local Restorative Justice service to build their capacity to work restoratively with people who speak EAL. As part of this partnership, Why me? delivered a three day facilitation training to PBIC and Bedfordshire Victim Care, which provided the opportunity to strengthen the relationship between the two organisations.
The CEO of PBIC, Mags Brady, said: “Amongst many problems that clients come and present us with is the experience of being either a victim of crime or even a perpetrator… we thought that the Restorative Justice project could help equip us with more skills and help us develop partnerships where we could be in touch with organisations to develop knowledge around those issues, which links directly to our holistic package.”
Through visiting PBIC, we learned that none of the staff had heard of Restorative Justice prior to the training we delivered. Not only were the words unfamiliar, but the concept too was something many of them had not encountered before.
But this is not uncommon. Many people who work with local communities who may have been affected by crime are not familiar with Restorative Justice, and are therefore unable to make the offer to their service users. As a result, many people affected by crime are unaware that this service is available to them. Having completed the Restorative Justice training, the PBIC staff could see the benefits of Restorative Justice and said that they “would feel very confident telling them (their clients) about it”.
One staff member said she had already put the learning from the training into practice when dealing with a conflict between a Ukrainian guest and their host. “I felt more confident… because we had practised some situations, I was a little bit prepared.”
What did they think about Restorative Justice?
At PBIC, staff saw the benefits that Restorative Justice could offer their service users. “I interact with a lot of people, a lot of vulnerable migrants… if they would be able to speak to others and solve their issues in a way like Restorative Justice does, it would be a good thing.” Another added: “For me, the main quality of this technique is to heal the damage, find the damage and remove it from people so they can go on and live their lives in full.”
As well as seeing the potential benefits for their service users, one member of staff spoke about how the training would impact their work as a team within the organisation.
“It is very necessary to use Restorative Justice skills in everyday work in our organisation… I have more than 20 years experience as a Manager and all the time when you are working with people, with your team or with clients, it’s kind of like Restorative Justice.” They believed that the restorative skills they had developed in the training would make them “more effective and efficient in the workplace”.
The PBIC staff identified some barriers that could arise in implementing Restorative Justice into their organisation, primarily around language and culture. For example, one mentioned that the standard English phrases used throughout the restorative process are not easily translated into Ukrainian; “Just a simple translation is not going to work,” she explained, adding that she was unable to find Restorative Justice resources in either Ukrainian or Russian. Another mentioned that “many things can be lost in translation, that’s why it is very important that the interpreters are with them”.
Partnering up in Bedford has taught us so much about the barriers that people from Eastern European backgrounds may face when accessing services like Restorative Justice, and gave us the opportunity to learn more about their needs. Community organisations like PBIC are doing crucial work in supporting community members who may have additional language needs to navigate complicated systems in the UK, often providing a sense of familiarity in terms of language and culture. Working with community organisations is a great opportunity for services to reach people, and for community members to find out what services are out there, and how they can support them.
As our work in Bedford comes to a close, we are pleased to see that the concept of Restorative Justice, and the skills and tools it entails, have been able to support PBIC with communicating with their clients, as well as together as a team. We look forward to seeing how the partnership between Bedfordshire Victim Care and PBIC continues and how they work together to support their local communities.
Visit our Project Articulate page on the website for more information and for all the latest updates on our work.
Thank you to PBIC.