An Interview with Dave Walker MBE – Director of Mediation at Southwark Mediation Centre

As Calm Mediation and Southwark Mediation Centre prepare to work more closely together, we spoke to Dave Walker, the director of mediation at Southwark Mediation Centre, about his experience in the world of mediation and in life. 

Describe the growth of Southwark Mediation Centre. 

I feel the growth of the centre is down to the creativity and passion of the volunteers, trustees and staff.   

We noticed a big change when approval was given to experienced mediators to try out approaches and techniques in their field. We are also working hard at our relationship with our referrers. 

Outline some challenges you have met along the way. 

An obvious one is funding and how to quantify cost savings through a mediators intervention. For example, a social landlord could spend £40,000 taking a resident to court relating to Legal disrepair dispute when a mediated outcome would be around £2,000; just 5%! A postcode/gang-related homicide can cost £1.2 million and that’s if the perpetrator is arrested within 7 days, let alone the damage it does to our communities and the families that have to live with losing a son or daughter in such tragic circumstances. Using mediators to defuse postcode/gang-related tensions saves lives for less than 1 percent of the cost. £1.2 Million would make for a quality youth club.  

What achievements have made you the most proud at Southwark Mediation Centre?  

When one of our volunteers ends up having a career in mediation. We have had over 30 volunteers from our centre go on to work throughout the UK, Europe, New Zealand and Africa. Two examples of what I am most proud of are:  

Ex-volunteer Ursula Little trained as a community mediator, but when we had our volunteers and staff trained as family mediators, Ursula stepped up to develop our family mediation service. I have complete faith in her – I trusted her judgement and she delivered. If I could deliver quality mediation at the rate Ursula does, I would be a happy man. 

Ex-volunteer Mel Bruce, with well over 20 years experience at Southwark Mediation Centre, has excelled in Community Mediation, Anti-social Behaviour, Hate Crimes, Workplace Mediation, Restorative Justice and settled in Peer/Schools Mediation. I don’t believe there is any other mediation project that has won as many awards or received as much recognition in the UK, and now we have one of her expeer mediators, Ayuba, on our board of Trustees.  

Tell us one of the most heart-warming moments you have enjoyed. 

We have a contract with the City of London to deal with neighbour disputes and complaints which also covers residents who are categorised as vexatious complainants. I worked with one such resident who had battled with the City of London, both in and out of court. We started with some shuttle mediation and finally offered to bring senior staff and the resident together. Before the joint mediation session, I remember the member of staff saying ‘I’m not doing this every day’. What cracked it was both parties seeing each other as human beings. The icing on the cake was later that year, when both the residents and the staff member were chatting and laughing, and the manager put their arm around the resident and said “Who would have thought we would be doing this before the mediation?” The resident stood up at our 30th Anniversary and acknowledged that, despite the fact he was someone who was previously looked upon as a vexatious complainant, through mediation he now had a positive relationship with the City of London.  

Give us a potted history of Dave Walker. 

I was born in Elephant and Castle with mum, dad and my older brother all living in 2 rooms, with no bathroom, and a toilet we shared with another neighbour on the floor below. Every Sunday from the age of 11 to 21, I worked on my uncle’s stall in East Street Market. It was the best education I could ever have. You have to learn to be polite and engage with all your community, especially when you are selling tiger print wrapping paper, needles, cottons and handkerchiefs. So yes, I am a barrow boy and proud of it. 

‘Do you want a bag with that?’ 

I went to a comprehensive school in London – 1,200 pupils of which I only knew two. I had to learn to get on with people pretty quickly, so my sense of humour and making people laugh got me through. I loved school – never truanted but didn’t walk away with much. I loved art and printing so going into the print industry was my first job.  

I then worked in the city for 13 years and, when made redundant, I put all my time into volunteering as a mediator. My experience just grew which led to my first job at Southwark Mediation Centrein effect a community mediator for Peckham. Desperate for referrals, a call would come in from a resident and I would say “What are you doing now?”. I would go straight round there, to which they would often say “You got round here quicker than the police!” 

Of course you don’t have “favourite” clients but if you did, what three words would they use to describe you? 

‘A decent bloke’ or ‘Dave the mediator’ – either of which I am happy with.  

What’s the best thing about lockdown? 

Fine-tuning my negotiation skills on the phone.  

Who has inspired you the most?  

My dad, Leonard Walker. He was quite left wing but, if I had a debate coming up in school, he would sit me down with his copy of the Daily worker [Morning Star] and a copy of the Sunday times and would go through what their position was and why they possibly believed what they believed. When it came to the debate, if the class was split with 2 on one side and 28 on the other side, I could debate for the minority even if it wasn’t my point of view, because of my dad’s briefing. I feel this was my first training in mediation.  

What advice do you wish you had been given at the beginning of your career? 

I was blessed to be in the right place at the right time in 1985 to become a mediator  – a job I love – but my Mum always taught me to be polite, and I would say that has got me further in life than any qualification.  

How many unread emails do you have? 

I read them all, but I can’t say I action them all in the order they should be actioned. 

Favourite coffee shop? 

Easy one: Leaf & Bean coffee shop at Rotherhithe tube station. I walk in there in the morning and say ‘best flat white in London please’. 

Worst thing you ever had to eat? 

Humble pie… fortunately not too often, but I try to learn from each helping.