Whanganui has a vision to work towards a Restorative City but we're never going to be able to say we've achieved it.

And that's okay.

Whanganui is one of the few cities internationally making a move to being a Restorative City. So what does that mean?

"Restorative City is an aspirational vision that encourages us to strive for an environment we want to see for people," Whanganui Restorative Practices facilitator Deb Smith says.

Advertisement

"You never actually get there because nobody's ever perfect. We hope that it's a groundswell of goodwill.

"It's organic - you have to sow the seeds and then it flourishes."

The Restorative City Whanganui Trust's vision is about "Creating the environment for all Whanganui people to thrive and succeed together through respectful relationships".

The trust incorporates Restorative Justice (between offenders and their victims) and Restorative Practices (bringing a restorative approach to relationships to the wider community).

Smith says the restorative - or transformational or relational - approach is not about becoming best buddies with someone you're in conflict with but gaining mutual understanding and empowering people.

"That's a founding principle, whether it's family, large organisations or small community groups," Smith said.

"Restorative City is taking the principles of Restorative Justice into the community. It encourages people to approach challenges with a relational mindset.

"It's about telling people 'your voice is valued, your ideas are valued'. The process of having them shared quite often creates a solution rather than people in an ivory tower telling you what the solutions need to be.

Advertisement

"It's a relational approach to problem solving. As human beings we need to be in healthy relationships.

"We still need to hold people accountable. Restorative practice is a respectful way to hold people to account. It brings learning. Through dialogue we can learn to understand other people's perspectives."

The Restorative City Whanganui Trust's vision is to create an environment for all Whanganui people to thrive and succeed together through respectful relationships.
The Restorative City Whanganui Trust's vision is to create an environment for all Whanganui people to thrive and succeed together through respectful relationships.

Smith works with people in workplaces, sports clubs, governance groups and organisations to help with restorative decision making or leadership and community building.

She says a restorative approach can be applied to all relational situations.

"When I work with people, they say 'I had no idea I was affecting someone in that way' and have no idea of their impact on people and the environment.

"It can be used with children. I have four children and it happens every day in my house. When you have a restorative approach you understand what happened - you say 'tell me what happened, who may be affected by that, how did it make you feel'. You can ask them 'what are you going to do next time?'

"I meet with people who feel they have had their trust broken. It's allowing people to thrive by being empowered and having a voice."

People in leadership can choose to adopt a restorative approach. For example, the Whanganui District Council's code of conduct acknowledges that a restorative approach is the first step.

"If we had more people aware of what a restorative approach was in their families and communities, it would grow," Smith said.

"You can do it as a parent, as a member of a governance board. You can get to know your neighbours and have supportive relationships."

Smith's work ranges from low-level conflict to high level entrenched conflict and the trust is developing training and resources to guide people on when and how a restorative approach can be used.

"The first step is to meet with people and hear what their story is. We see if circles would help or if they need specialist help to solve a particularly tricky conflict.

"For low-level problems we have an informal approach and for high level conflict it's more formal. The higher the risk, the more structure you need.

"You just need workable relationships at work. You don't need to be best mates. Ultimately, for people to thrive in the environment they are in, they need to have functional relationships. There's a human need for belonging. People need to be in healthy connections with others.

"Most people are grateful for the opportunity to sort things out. They have motivation not to live with this any more. They can't sleep, can't eat, they're kicking the cat, shouting at the kids when they're living in conflict.

"A lot of us feel we have no other choice than to walk away from that sports club or resign from that job."

There is a relational approach for every age and stage, Smith said.

"From birth you can start to take a relational approach with your children by singing and talking to your baby.

"We need to forgive our kids, show some compassion and understand they are unable to regulate their emotions. We can bring them into our circles and show them. If we engage in supporting them, they are less likely to erupt.

"All Whanganui secondary schools, in one way or another, have used restorative approaches. They have all recognised in some way a restorative approach is valuable. Some primary schools have adopted restorative practices."

The trust ran a free workshop during Neighbours Week to introduce people to Restorative Practices.
The trust ran a free workshop during Neighbours Week to introduce people to Restorative Practices.

During Neighbours Week in March, the trust provided a free training workshop on Restorative Practices and arranged community circles hosted by Whanganui MP Harete Hipango and district councillors Jenny Duncan and Josh Chandulal-Mackay.

"Circles are a way to build community within the workplace, sports teams and organisations. We provide learning opportunities for people to know how to do this for themselves.

"When things get tricky or there's a conflict, we can help to restore a functioning relationship. We provide training for people to learn those skills for themselves. We ultimately want the people of Whanganui to do this work for themselves and we can support them in doing that."

Most of Smith's work is in Whanganui but recently she has done some work in Wellington for a large government department's head office.

There is growing awareness nationally and internationally of a restorative approach.

The trust is a founding member of the International Learning Community, a collaboration of a handful of cities around the world leading the way in the Restorative City concept, and was recently asked to contribute information to the International Journal of Restorative Justice to guide the growth of Restorative Cities in Europe.

More information about Restorative Practices is available at https://restorativepracticeswhanganui.co.nz
A Restorative City is where the population:
Enjoy a safe, calm environment
Value relationships based on equal respect, concern, care and dignity
Enjoy positive cultural identity
Understand both the negative impact and positive impact of our behaviour
Take responsibility for our actions and repair harm we may have caused others
Have our voices heard and are tolerant of differing views

A Restorative City can be measured by:
Reduced child abuse, domestic violence and other criminal activities
Reduced absenteeism/stand downs and increased academic achievement in schools
Reduced absenteeism/bullying and sabotage in workplaces and increased productivity
Increased satisfaction when interacting with government and non-government agencies
Increased feeling of safety in homes and walking the streets
Increased sense of community belonging