Surrey Council: mediation, coaching and support for victims of anti-social behaviour

Coaching and support for victims is one element of Surrey’s ASB work, where an emphasis on sharing information and resources underpins a strong partnership approach between Surrey County Council, Surrey Police, Mediation Surrey and 11 district and borough councils.


The local context

Surrey County Council’s community safety team includes a project officer with county-wide responsibility for ASB. The aim is to have a broadly consistent approach across all 11 borough/district councils, only two of which have dedicated ASB officers. In the other nine ASB is the responsibility of community safety managers, supported by local police specialists and other partners via the borough-based multi-agency community harm and risk management meetings (CHaRMMs) and joint action groups. 

Surrey County Council’s ASB Lead, Louise Gibbins, supports the work of the Head of ASB and Partnerships for Surrey Police, Jo Grimshaw. They co-chair the Community Harm Reduction Forum, which usually holds two learning/networking events each year. A monthly email update is sent to about 500 forum members. A multi-agency partnership coordinates and oversees delivery of the county ASB strategy and considers serious crime disruption activities requiring a joined-up approach.

A refresh of Surrey’s Community Trigger framework was recently completed, led by Jo Grimshaw and with support from ASB Help. One current focus is helping boroughs to address complaints in the ‘grey area’ which don’t yet meet the threshold but may escalate. Louise Gibbins said:

By providing support we can ensure that boroughs don’t see Community Trigger cases as threats but about making things better for everyone.

Coaching and mediation

Victims of ASB have recourse to two specialist services: a victim support coaching service and a community mediation service, both provided by not-for-profit organisation Mediation Surrey. They are delivered in partnership between the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) and Surrey Police, funded primarily by the OPCC but also by the main referrers, including housing associations and most of the local councils.

Community mediation is offered in neighbour disputes where both parties are willing to try to resolve things. The mediators are trained volunteers, supported by a staff team. It can be very effective but is not always appropriate for the situation, or one party may decline to take part. This is where the coaching service comes in.

Victims of ASB are often vulnerable people and can be left feeling helpless and frustrated. A team of volunteer and paid coaches provides a listening ear, supports people to develop coping strategies and become more resilient, and signposts them to other help. Clients can explore possibilities to change things for the better and develop skills, confidence and strategies to feel safer and more in control.

Impact and outcomes

Referrals for coaching rose significantly during the 2020/21 financial year. The service was funded for 200 referrals but had already received 277 by the end of the third quarter. Anne Jones, Director of Services at Mediation Surrey, said COVID-19 had a noticeable effect. “Coaching is about helping people to develop strategies to deal with the impact of ASB and manage their own feelings better. In a year of multiple lockdowns with people stuck at home, money worries and more self-medication with alcohol and cannabis, that had an impact on neighbours and communities.” Some extra funding came from the OPCC’s COVID-19 fund to take the services online (which has gone well) and for extra coaching.

Trained volunteer coaches are a vital part of the model and take on more than half of the cases, adding value of over £14,000 in 2019/20.  A small team of paid staff deal with cases that involve significant mental health issues or other complicating factors. Each client has an assessment phone call, a critical part of the process which is used to explain what coaching is and assess their willingness to engage.

Most referrals come from Surrey Police (about 60 per cent) followed by a large housing provider at nine per cent; the rest come from councils, the voluntary sector and other housing providers. The service is about changing how people feel so progress can be difficult to measure. In 2019/20 almost 150 coaching cases were opened and closed, of which 40 per cent reported at least some improvement.

Feedback from clients is collated to capture success. One said: “Thank you for your fantastic help and support and advice…I only wish I had known you seven years ago, then I may not have gone through all the hell I have had to deal with alone.” Another said: “Being put in touch with this service has given us an outlet to become more comfortable in ourselves and not be so frightened.”

Next steps

The coaching and mediation services are funding dependent but will continue to provide support for every referral. The idea of some volunteers becoming Community Trigger advocates is being explored, said Jo Grimshaw: “We are also discussing with the service how utilising their skills could help deliver community conferencing, where a community, stakeholders and perpetrators of ASB come together to find a resolution and build community resilience.”

Lessons learned

  • County-wide communication: newsletters, events and the community safety website help to ensure that local practitioners feel supported, keeps ASB high on the agenda and helps to maintain a consistent approach.
  • ASB strategy: it is important to include all partner agencies when producing the strategy. Everyone then has a common goal and has agreed to a response, which reduces the ‘postcode lottery’ for victims.
  • Support coaching: referrers must understand what coaching is – this is an ongoing task. If you can inform and engage front-line referrers, such as police community support officers, you are likely to achieve a better success rate.

Contact

Louise Gibbins, ASB Lead, Surrey County Council: [email protected] or Jo Grimshaw, Head of ASB and Partnerships, Surrey Police: [email protected]