Engage for Change
In 2009, some residents closely involved with the Community Centre in Monkchester Road, Walker, were increasingly concerned about street, neighbour and family conflict. So a steering group launched a new project: Engage for Change (E4C). A community party launched E4C in the primary school one cold Saturday in January 2010.
NCRN was invited to run a 90-minute ‘taster’ for ‘Handling Conflict’ workshops. After that, 6 local women offered to promote and recruit for a 3-day workshop – and the partnership began.
59 people, mostly from Walker in the East End of Newcastle, have taken part in 3-day residential weekend workshops on ‘Handling Conflict’.
- 28 of those went on to take part in further 2- or 3-day workshops.
- 94 places in total were taken up.
- The seven residential workshops included five Level One workshops, and two at a second, more advanced, level.
- 63% described the workshops as ‘excellent’, 34% as ‘good’.
To date 140 people have attended NCRN sponsored Handling Conflict workshops. The courses are facilitated by the Alternatives to Violence Project, Britain. The level one course covers building self esteem, methods of communication and ways to resolve conflict. In the past the workshops have taken place on a residential basis, however recently we changed the model to accommodate those who can’t get away for a weekend. This worked very well, attracting far more applicants than places available. Each of those who attended said they would recommend the course to others. Many said they would take what they had learned and use it in their everyday lives. If you live, work or volunteer in Newcastle you are entitled to apply for a free place on the course. Please continue to check the website for more information.
Recently the Handling Conflict workshop was aimed at city workers from the region and in this regard was slightly different to previous workshops as all the participants were qualified professionals. The following is a brief account of the weekend which was well received by those taking part.
Put fourteen people together in an isolated old house in the country for a weekend and what do you get? No, not a murder mystery, but better ways of handling conflict and a lot of fun.
The place: Minsteracres, a retreat house on the west side of the A68, where we had a very warm welcome from both the staff and their brand new biomass boiler. The people: we were eleven participants and three trained Alternatives to Violence Project facilitators, all of us volunteers and wanting to handle better the inevitable conflicts in our lives.
NCRN’s residential workshop was open to both residents or city workers (or both). Unusually, on this occasion all the participants were highly qualified professionals. Rather daunting for me as an apprentice facilitator. Confidentiality is required of everyone taking part, so from the very first greetings we began to build an atmosphere of trust and co-operation in which everyone felt safe to participate.
We all brought examples from our personal experience of friction, at home and/or at work, – conflict which we thought we’d managed well, and also conflict that we wanted to handle better. These real life situations prompted us to think about what strategies had worked, and why. We worked on communication – yes, we can all speak and listen but we can become more skilled, especially when we’re seeking common ground to resolve problems.
In conflict situations where we felt we were getting nowhere, we considered alternative approaches and practised them in role play. There was little ‘teaching’, though we looked at some theoretical models to understand better why we sometimes struggle and what might work better.
This may sound rather serious, and certainly we took it seriously, but it was also very good humoured – in fact several people said they hadn’t laughed so much for years. One person’s evaluation was that the weekend had been inspiring and re-invigorating – far better than a who-dun-it!
What Happens at a “Handling Conflict” Workshop?
A workshop consists of 8 to 15 people, and is led by 3 or 4 trained volunteer facilitators.
- It involves 6 sessions, usually of 3 hours each.
- Strict confidentiality is required of everyone.
- Within this safe space, real everyday conflicts are examined, discussed and role-played.
- The workshop activities encourage the self-esteem of everyone there, and create an atmosphere of trust and co-operation.
- Listening and communication skills are developed
- The workshops are fun!
For over 35 years, the Alternatives to Violence Project has been running these 3-day workshops on ’Handling Conflict’. The workshops, which have Quaker roots, began in prisons, were soon extended to communities, and now operate in over 40 countries.
What did people say about the courses?
Follow-up research on the longer-term impact of the workshops found that of the participants later interviewed:
- 100% responded positively to how they felt about having taken part in the workshops
- 70% use more peaceful ways of resolving conflict always or almost always
- 75% made reference to a change in the way that they think or act
- 65% always, or almost always, feel that they have more choice about how they resolve conflict
- 55% responded that they always/almost always understand their feelings and actions better
You can read the full evaluation report here