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Transforming conflict at the root

Abigail Darton reports back on her first few months as a Quaker peaceworker, placed with Leap Confronting Conflict.

Workshop at the Conflict Matters conference 2017. Image: Everynight images for the Evens Foundation
Workshop at the Conflict Matters conference 2017. Image: Everynight images for the Evens Foundation

I have always been passionate about working towards a more peaceful world and two months into my placement with Leap Confronting Conflict I am already involved in a range of exciting peacebuilding projects. This wouldn't be possible without the support and guidance of Quakers in Britain.

Leap Confronting Conflict is a youth charity specialising in conflict management which delivers training to young people to support non-violent, transformative responses to conflict. Leap have a long track record of working with young people in gangs and prisons and have more recently begun to work specifically with young women and young people in care.

The relationship between Leap and Quakers is longstanding. Founded in 1987 by a Quaker, Alec Davison, as a project run by The Leaveners, Quaker values are still clearly present throughout the running of the organisation and the work carried out with young people.

Peaceful prisons

One of my main pieces of work is to support the management of the peaceful prisons project which is piloting a new model to reduce violence in prisons. Peaceful prisons is training prisoners and staff in conflict awareness and mediation skills, to develop community circles which empower prisoners to address and manage conflicts which arise.

Part of my role investigates how restorative approaches and therapeutic communities aid development of these community circles. I have always had an interest in the criminal justice system and the treatment of prisoners so being involved in this project has been eye-opening.

At the start of my placement I expected this to be my only involvement in prison work but one month in I was extremely excited to be tasked with managing another violence reduction project in a different, this time women's, prison. Although working towards the same aims as the peaceful prisons project, this project has a very different plan, with more of a focus on working with women as they enter the prison as well as training prisoners and staff to deliver training together in order to model positive relationships. I am very much looking forward to seeing how the two projects develop and what affect these different approaches can have on prisons.

Identity, belonging and extreme thinking

My other main project involves researching a new strand of work for young people, called 'Identity, belonging and extreme thinking'. Sadly, we are all too aware of the rise in extreme thinking within our society and the dangerous consequences divisive narratives can bring. Young people can be particularly vulnerable to being drawn into this thinking. At the root of this often lies conflicts of identity and belonging.

Leap are looking to develop this project to enable young people to address these conflicts and issues of extreme thinking within safe spaces. I have really enjoyed the time to delve into this and think about appropriate responses to this important topic without demonising or further excluding young people.

A tool for transformation

Much of the research has involved reading about perspectives surrounding identity and belonging, and learning about the different governmental and third sector responses to extreme thinking. I found it particularly fruitful for both this research and my own development as a peace worker to attend the Conflict Matters conference at Friends House in November. It was inspiring to hear from educators, academics, policy makers, and youth workers about how conflict can be a powerful tool for transformation in education.

As well as engaging with this interesting work, I am also enjoying being a part of the team at Leap. I find it inspiring to be surrounded by people working so hard to provide opportunities for young people and promote peaceful resources to conflict – a great way for me to develop my own understanding of peace and what it means to be a peace worker! I am excited about what the rest of the year has to bring and look forward to updating you on these projects.

Find out more about the peaceworker scheme