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Last Updated: Monday, 9 February, 2004, 07:46 GMT
My London: 'Hear both sides of the story'
Lucille Watkinson
Lucille Watkinson and her son Josh live in East Ham, in east London
Lucille Watkinson, 19, is a single mother who currently cannot afford to take a full-time job and come off housing benefit if she wants to afford the rent on her flat. So she does voluntary work instead - stepping in to sort out neighbours' feuds.

I had a really tough pregnancy. I had a condition which meant I couldn't walk, so I had to give up college.

Hopefully I will go back to work when I get a permanent flat - I can't wait.

I hate being on benefit. It's not the situation I would've chosen and it wasn't the situation I envisaged for myself when I was pregnant.

Financially things are very tight. I do want to go back to work, but I have been told I can't because of my situation with the rent.

I couldn't get a full-time job because I live in temporary accommodation, the rent here is phenomenal - £250 a week.

A lot of the time it's gotten to be so hostile that the relationship ... has completely dissolved
Lucille Watkinson
If I got a full time job, I wouldn't get much housing benefit and I would have to pay £220 a week in rent so it wouldn't be financially viable for me at the moment.

I would be a lot worse off unless I got a job paying £30,000 a year.

But I'm doing voluntary work and a few courses - I needed to meet new people and just get out of the house.

My mum worked with the neighbourhood mediation service and she told me about a course they were running, so I decided to see where that would take me.

On completion of the course I chose to do voluntary work - I've been doing that for about 18 months now.

People argue over the nuts and bolts, neighbours building conservatories a couple of inches onto their land, children playing with footballs outside late at night, music, parking and stuff like that.

'Probably end in fisticuffs'

A lot of the time it's gotten to be so hostile between them that the relationship whereby they could go and knock on the door has completely dissolved.

If they were to do that it would probably end in fisticuffs.

We are not there to say who is right and who is wrong. It's not our business.

We don't go round with suits and briefcases, we tell them from the start we are there to hear both sides of the story.

It's just a matter of letting them hear each other without shouting and screaming in a calm environment - they can usually come to their own agreements.

It makes you feel as if you are doing something worthwhile - there's job satisfaction
Lucille Watkinson
I think most people that agree to do it want a peaceful life, they don't want to be arguing and fighting.

Once or twice I get: 'What do you know? You're just a kid', but once they know I'm not there to side with the other party then usually they are quite forthcoming.

When people are in mediation they will make contracts with agreements and we will make a follow-up call to check everything's still going according to the contract.

It's very rewarding. I know it sounds corny but it's magical when two people, who couldn't previously share a few words without shouting at each other, start saying they understand the problem and 'let's sort it out'.

It's such a good feeling knowing you have helped two people to understand each other a bit better.

It makes you feel as if you are doing something worthwhile - there's job satisfaction.


My London is a series of features about life in the city which will be on News Online every Monday. If you have a story suggestion please send an e-mail to: londonnews@bbc.co.uk.




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