RESTORATIVE justice experts praised the pioneering work of Darlington volunteers at a ceremony held last week.

At an event held to mark the first anniversary of the town’s Neighbourhood Resolution project, volunteers who have helped tackle problematic issues in the community were rewarded for their efforts.

The scheme - which offers victims of low-level crime and antisocial behaviour the chance to confront their offenders and agree a way forward – has helped more than 260 clients in its first year and has resolved or significantly improved the situation in 92 per cent of cases.

The anniversary event saw speakers including Durham Police’s chief constable Michael Barton, Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg and Darlington Borough Council leader Bill Dixon congratulate volunteers for their efforts.

Canadian expert Dr Evelyn Zellerer, who gave a keynote speech on the importance of restorative approaches, said: “I want to commend the volunteers who have worked so hard, we don’t have this kind of support in other parts of the world – it’s phenomenal.

“We can’t resolve crime on our own, we have to form partnerships and work together and move away from reliance on the police, courts and prisons.

“This is profound work we are doing and don’t underestimate what you are doing in Darlington, you can be a real leader in England and worldwide.”

The event saw 25 new volunteers graduate from their training programme while certificates were given to those who have worked to improve their community throughout the last year.

Debbie Chamberlain was named facilitator of the year for using her skills and expertise to bring a number of cases to successful resolution.

The 48-year-old Darlington woman said: “People let you into their lives and into some really personal circumstances and you’ve really got to be respectful of that.

“It’s quite humbling to walk away from a situation and know that you’ve made a little bit of a difference as it means such a big deal to people.

“Doing this has helped me realise just how the smallest difference can really change lives for the better.

“I’m a great believer in everyone having the capacity to change and the ability to take control of their own lives but sometimes they need a little bit of help and I just want to try and make a bit of difference in that way.”