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Meet the Member: Restorative Thinking

In this #MeetTheMember blog, we speak to Lesley Parkinson, Executive Director of Restorative Thinking. Lesley discusses the benefits of using restorative practice within criminal justice and tells us about a new e-Learning course which will help foster more positive relationships in prison and probation settings.

What is your background?

My work experience is eclectic. I taught English at a Japanese high school and then worked as a sports journalist in Japan. When I returned to the UK, I took up a role with the BBC as a producer for BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio 4 and the World Service. In 2002 I moved into teaching at secondary level and began a regional education project management role in 2007. This led me into the field of restorative practice, and I established Restorative Thinking in 2012.

What drew you to working in the criminal justice sector?

The team at Restorative Thinking started working in the criminal justice sector because we felt we had something different to offer in the field of restorative practice.

Can you describe your organisation and what it does?

Restorative Thinking is an innovative social enterprise, specialising in the fields of restorative and relational practice. Restorative practice (RP) is an emerging social science, focused on a set of principles and skills to guide the way we act in all our dealings, a framework for building and maintaining positive relationships. RP has many benefits, including:

  • supporting the successful rehabilitation of people who have committed crimes and contributing to a reduction in reoffending.
  • offering alternative solutions throughout the adjudication process in prisons.
  • improving self-awareness and relationship skills.
  • better communication within and between families.
  • a productive, psychologically safe workforce.
  • a reduction in staff absence.
  • a reduction in the number of complaints and grievances at work.

We have worked alongside prison and probation colleagues since 2012, delivering consultancy, training and coaching. Our six-week intervention programme, Restorative Life Skills, is delivered in prison and probation settings. It introduces restorative principles and provides participants with key skills to improve relationships with cell mates, colleagues, partners, parents, carers and others.

Other work we have done in the criminal justice system includes a one-year HMPPS project to foster inclusive environments in Approved Premises in the Midlands and North East, and work with probation services in Cumbria to pilot restorative practice as a means of preventing domestic abuse.

What does your role involve?

I’m responsible for overseeing all our projects and workstreams. Part of my role involves researching and identifying gaps in provision, and making restorative practice knowledge, skills and understanding accessible to specific audiences in engaging and meaningful ways.

I am constantly looking for solutions to key problems within criminal justice and education, developing our offer to help reduce offending, enhance life skills and improve workplace culture.

What do you love most about working at your organisation?

I work with a wonderful group of colleagues at a pioneering ideas factory!

What are you currently working on?

We are developing a range of restorative and relational practice e-Learning courses. These courses offer practical solutions in different settings, such as in prison and probation services, Local Authorities, schools, and at home.

Our most recent e-Learning course, Restorative Thinking at Work, introduces key restorative principles and skills to workplaces and provides staff with techniques to develop more positive working relationships. The aim of the course is to reduce staff absence, increase retention and reduce the number of complaints and grievances by embedding shared principles across the workforce.

In prison and probation services, the course is delivered to improve interactions between senior leadership and staff; within and between staff teams; and between staff and residents or service users. These skills will be vital as staff, prison residents and probation service users continue to face challenging conditions during COVID-19, as well as in the aftermath as the justice system and wider society heals from the pandemic. If you’re interested in using this e-Learning, get in touch. You can contact me on

What has been your proudest moment at your organisation?

I feel proudest when we receive letters and poems from people in prison and probation settings who have taken part in our courses and feel inspired to write to us. One of my favourites is a poem from a graduate of our Parenting without Conflict programme. And one participant recently wrote to us and said:

‘It’s not as easy to open up if you are not used to it, especially to a stranger. Where on this occasion it was different for me as the facilitator who runs the course, Jodie, was very easy to talk to and would always pay attention and be respectful to what I had to say. Which from my experience made it a lot easier for me to go over some tough points in my life.’

Do you have any routines or habits that help you succeed?

Strong coffee certainly helps! I also make sure that I exercise regularly; that I remain inquisitive and continue reading and researching; that I listen, and that I talk things out with colleagues.

Do you have any hobbies?

I have lots of hobbies, such as cycling, wild swimming, dog-walking, reading and gardening.

Favourite book?

My favourite book is always the one that I’m currently reading. Right now, that’s Work: A History of How We Spend Our Time, by James Suzman.

Favourite song?

Knowing Me, Knowing You by Abba.

Favourite film?

The Shawshank Redemption!

Favourite podcast?

I like the RSA Bridges to the Future podcast. My favourite episode features author and innovator Hilary Cottam.

What advice would you give to someone else in your role?

Listen with the same passion that you want to be heard. Have the courage to walk into a room with your ideas. Get comfortable feeling a little out of your depth.

What do you like most about being a member of the Criminal Justice Alliance?

I like the networks and webinars, learning from others, sharing what we do, and feeling visible.