Maria Arpa (England)

Maria is founder and Chief Executive of Centre for Peaceful Solutions. She has made interpersonal skills a lifetime project. Growing up in London in housing declared unfit for human habitation to immigrant parents, Maria experienced first-hand just how easy it is to become dysfunctional. Her Maltese parents were traumatised by World War Two which added to the stress of growing up in poverty. Through a sheer refusal to accept her lot in life, she removed herself from the slums and began a journey of development.

Alongside a 25-year career in marketing and advertising, she developed her talent for engaging people in healthy conversations through her experiences as a Samaritan Volunteer, a Counsellor, a Reiki Master, a Mediator and Chief Executive of a community mediation service. Maria also spent time at the sharp end running her own business for 15 years and working as a stand-up comic for 5 years whilst bringing up 2 children.

In 2004, having run a community mediation service for 3 years and developed her own ideas about social change, community engagement and conflict resolution, Maria went solo and began working on her doorstep in the London Borough of Brent engaging statutory agencies and local people in ideas of Nonviolent Communication, Conflict Resolution and Restorative Justice. Others were soon interested in participating- and a team began to form.

At a time when the mediation industry’s general opinion was that mediation was not possible when there has been physical violence or police involvement, Maria set out to prove that violent people can engage in healthy conversations when facilitated and guided. With that in mind, in 2006, and as a direct response to the increase in gun crime and drive-by shootings on her road, where the local community were still mourning the fatal shooting of 7 year old, Toni Ann Byfield, Maria set up The Centre for Peaceful Solutions; a charity dedicated to helping people resolve conflict without the use of violence.

Maria developed the Dialogue Road Map – a communications tool designed to break down barriers and get engagement when the other person is resistant, hostile, angry, violent or resentful. The Dialogue Road Map draws on Needs Based Theory, Person Centred Counselling, Nonviolence Philosophy and Appreciative Enquiry. Maria’s key influencers are Marshall Rosenberg, Carl Rogers, Gene Sharpe and Alfie Kohn.

Maria came to understand how conflict is at the heart of destructive behaviour and that, with a change in attitude towards it, conflict could be the source of positive change.  Maria chose to devote her life to sharing this learning with people who have fewer options in life in order to help them realise their own capacity to contribute to their own well-being and to their community. Her own background has been key in her ability to reach ‘hard to reach’ people. Maria’s expertise is in building rapport quickly even when the other person is hostile or resistant and in teaching others how it is done even when they have limited capacity to learn.

As part of her work Maria has trained healthcare professionals and frontline workers including Social Workers, Doctors, Police Officers, Prison Officers and Teachers in how to engage service users into co-operative relationships by diffusing conflict and motivating positive change. Maria also works one on one with people who have mental disorders such as Schizophrenia, Addictions, Eating Disorders, PTSD, Insomnia and Gender Dysphoria. Her skill is in reaching and giving voice to the part of them that wants to make positive change.

In 2007, Peaceful Solutions was awarded half a million pounds by Central Government to develop a model of mediation for violent crime and anti-social behaviour. The work took her into some of the most deprived areas of London where she and her team engaged with gang members, violent offenders, local youth, many of whom were labelled as having mental health or anti-social behaviour issues. In 2009 the work was instrumental in preventing a retaliation shooting.

Her work takes her into communities, organisations, schools and prisons where she engages with the most challenging and influential participants. She works in the UK, Europe and New York passing on the skills which empower people to take self-responsibility and to find solutions.

She has been pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome she receives from beneficiaries and undeterred by the inability of statutory agency workers to challenge their systems to change in difficult and recurring situations. Currently, the charity is working on a ground breaking project in Dartmoor prison, a wellbeing project at Wellington College and Holistic Education Community project in Greece, where the Dialogue Road Map is at the heart of communication.

Maria believes that when people believe they have no ‘voice’, they resort to violence, manipulation, self-harm and other destructive behaviours as tragic attempts to be heard. The driving force behind Maria’s work is showing people who feel excluded, marginalised, disadvantaged or powerless how to articulate their needs in ways which are more likely to be heard and how to challenge ‘authority’ in ways which are more likely to get their needs met.

Maria is a former Chair of Mediation UK, has a Master’s degree in mediation and conflict resolution and is a sought after speaker and trainer. As a mother and grandmother she recognises the importance of authentic communication mother and along with her partner David, who now co-runs the charity with her, she strives to model the communication they seek to share in their work.

Described, in 2012, by the Civil Mediation Council as one of the UK’s ‘top’ mediators, the Dialogue Road Map has gained recognition amongst senior professionals in the mediation industry.

Maria’s experience ranges from Multi-National Corporate conflict to Street Gang threats to life and everything in between. Typically, neighbours at war, youth conflicts, family break up, family reconciliation, business deals gone wrong, interpersonal conflicts at work and group communication break-down.

Maria is the mastermind behind the Centre for Peaceful Solutions which she leads and directs in collaboration with her board, staff, volunteers and members.

Maria’s books, The Heart of Mindful Relationships and Mindfulness at Work, have received positive reviews.

See www.centreforpeacefulsolutions.org