Coming storms: why we need to work together

The climate is changing dangerously in the coming years will cause us great harm. We need to work to lessen the impact and stop things getting worse.

But in just the coming months there are challenges to recognise, face and deal with. Most of us can find ways to stay warm, fuel our bodies with food and do our best to minimise risks from flu and coronavirus. But many, too many, can’t.

Currently about a thousand people a week are dying from coronavirus. We rightly celebrate the benefits of vaccination but perhaps too easily forget that we are suffering a pandemic that could get worse. Already, testimony from NHS staff suggests that they are nearing breaking point. The knock-on effect is that many illnesses are not receiving the treatment they require. This is particularly the case for people suffering mental distress. Addiction services from the statutory sector receive less attention. So, for both recovery and support for mental health issues and addiction (which ideally would never be considered as separate) the weight falls on third sector, community- and user-led initiatives. The better news is that the best support has always come from such places, and will continue to do so.

We suggested in a previous post that over time there is a good case to be made for combining recovery work across all ‘addictions’ and to recognise that what works in general mental health recovery initiatives can also work for people whose primary concern is ‘addiction’. Within the addiction recovery field, for instance, the Scottish Recovery Consortium is beginning to work with gambling while traditionally it has focused on alcohol and other drugs: this example is repeated in many organisations. Since a ‘gambling addiction’ may not only come with mental health conditions such as depression and severe anxiety but also be considered a severe mental distress on its own, it makes sense to share recovery pathways that work in general mental health approaches.

While there will always be a need for some people, though not all, to receive specialist ‘expert’ treatment, the wider community and peer led enterprises can complement this and in many cases be enough. Such enterprises range widely. There is no one ‘fix’, rather there are many smaller possibilities that can combine appropriately for a unique individual with their unique biography. Some examples include one-to-one peer support which involves training, available from third sector recovery organisations; sharing voices; traditional user-led groups such as 12 Steps of SMART Recovery; informal social media support; support from Citizens Advice and debt management charities; workplace schemes. All have their place across all mental health issues.

Additionally, there are opportunities to become active in campaigning. For those who have been isolated in their suffering, creative work or things like men’s sheds or horticulture or volunteering are all ways of increasing social contact while being of benefit in themselves.

The coming months look precarious for many. With inflation predicted to rise to 5%, the government’s award of a 3.1% rise in the state pension, for instance, represents a lessening of income. Energy prices have already soared and basics such as food will also cost more. Businesses will struggle to survive as raw material costs increase. The removal of the £20 universal credit weekly top-up and the ending of wage furloughs will both add to suffering. The prospect of decent, affordable housing for millions is as further away than ever. Expect big increases in council tax as authorities struggle even to maintain basic services.

Financial hardships will bring a deterioration of population health. Statutory funding for ‘addiction’ services, savaged since 2010 is unlikely to top national governments’ priorities. Still, it is vital to keep campaigning to increase recognition and needs for more resourcing as a longer-term goal. For now, it seems the time to pool resources wherever possible, to partner each other even where sectors have not traditionally done so. and at the same time to consider whether there is enough in common between the various ills we suffer to formulate the beginnings of a common approach.

The View from Below 2: Futures

Since all our time is mainly focused on distributing our film One Last Spin, we have to slowly wind down our work elsewhere. The good news is that we already have five venues in Greater Glasgow and Clyde for showing the film in early 2022, and we are confident we’ll soon have more.

Following the Glasgow Gambling Summit in September, to which we made a small contribution, we know that the fruits of research and behind the scenes work from the likes of Glasgow City Council and Public Health Scotland will soon bear fruit. There’s a nice report of the Summit here.

We are also glad that Jardine Simpson has committed to developing attention to gambling at the Scottish Recovery Consortium at which he is CEO. Also pleased to hear from recovery organisations both north and south of the border of their plans to include gambling. We are also very grateful to those organisations which have provided funding for the film, and we’ll continue our low level approach to seeking modest sums for distributing the film.

So we’re pleased to see the issue of gambling harms beginning to be more widely addressed in Scotland. South of the border, the work of lived experience activists has been astonishingly successful in creating genuine movements for change, and we in Scotland will benefit enormously from this – especially since we are subject largely to Westminster policies around gambling.

In late September a group of MSPs at Holyrood tabled a motion to stop gambling advertising in sport and beyond. See  Holyrood Gambling Motion 921 .This marks an important sign of increasing awareness at national political level. We are looking to screen our film at a Holyrood event, and via networking with the MSPs, events in their constituencies.

Also in September a pilot education project was tested in Glasgow schools, and we’re promised a summary of this from the lead at Edinburgh University.

The Scotland Strategy Implementation Group is something we didn’t know about. It’s been meeting to address gambling and you can see its statement of purpose etc. here: Final_SSIG_Terms_of_Reference_2021 (3)

We are interested that it includes:

16(g). Engaging with people with lived experience of gambling harms in delivering and developing activities related to the National Strategy in Scotland.

We hope it continues its vital work, especially with ‘people with lived experience’. Such work will contribute to the Scotland-wide network of lived experience people established over recent years by Scotland Reducing Gambling Harms at the Alliance for Health and Social Care. We look forward to reports about, and actions proceeding from, this important work by which people with lived experience may at last have their voices heard and be fully involved with policy and strategy development.

Hopefully, while continued actions from statutory and large third sector organisations in Scotland continue to develop, their work will continue to put the voices of lived experience at the heart of things.

(Gambling) Recovery and the Wider Community

While help with gambling issues requires some specialist input, this varying according to the needs of each individual, it’s also the case that for many in recovery a wider community exists. Whether you have problems with depression, gambling, alcohol, or any of the hardships we all face or may face, whatever we face we may find support in wider communities. We’ll look at this a little below.

First, though, we need to state the fact that gambling as a pervasive issue is not sufficiently recognised, although there are promising signs of change.

Recovery Movements and Gambling

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There are community based services which highlight gambling as an area they support. Aquarius in the English midlands, for example, has gambling upfront with drugs and alcohol and drugs on its website and in its mission statement. In Scotland, the RCA Trust similarly headlines gambling support in its services (for Renfrew and across Scotland, excluding Glasgow and Edinburgh).

Recently, we were delighted when Jardine Simpson, CEO of the Scottish Recovery Consortium, spoke at the Glasgow Gambling Summit to commit to developing work around gambling which will centre upon the voices of lived experience.

We (Gambling Watch Scotland) have contacted some organisations, more or less at random, to ask about their services’ work with gambling, for instance what priority it receives, and what promotion to potential users it has. Encouragingly, the general response is that awareness is growing, and provision is growing. Highlighting gambling, for instance on websites or promotional material, seems to stem from ignoring the issue in the past and the ongoing lack of capacity and resources in third sector organisations.

There have been community resources which treat all addictions as the same, and which offer recovery support. For instance, in Liverpool Art and Soul was a primarily arts-based resource which involved people with staging theatre, making films, playing football, cooking, writing, reading, photography, allotment, local history, music making, hill walking computer training. Individual-centred support was able to refer people to specific partner agencies. The physical location was a drop-in building with kitchen. People with whatever ‘addictions’, often with other mental health issues, were able to meet and chat. It closed after commissioners deemed it ‘ineffective’ in monetary terms.

Such an example is one of  many thousands of similar activity-centred and community-based resources exist, invariably run by people with lived experience, often created by people with lived experience.

 

‘Addiction’ IS a ‘Mental Health’ Issue. Not something to be tagged on.

 

There are experts who probably know why there is a division between ‘mental health’ and ‘addiction’. To a mere layperson it sees odd that since addiction is such a widespread cause of misery which ripples from an individual to affect so many more, that it should not receive the attention it deserves when we consider that cosy phrase ‘well-being’. Being well involves being healthy and flourishing. Millions suffer dreadful ill-being because of ‘addiction’ which, of course, inevitably comes with words fully accepted into the respectable vocabulary of ‘mental health’ such as depression, anxiety, suicide.

 

Community Power

 

Anyway, returning from this tangent, the point is that recovery, discovery or whatever you want to call it is so often enhanced in active community involvement. ‘Proper’ evidence supports what ordinary people know, for instance, that volunteering, ‘going out’ into the community helps us feel well. ‘Going out’ is such a relief from those states where we are ever-fixed on ‘going in’ to personal suffering, rumination and isolation. ‘Recovery’ organisations themselves, of course, within their own networks and activities allow for this going out, sharing, consoling, having a purpose bigger than oneself and so forth. It works. It makes us feel better. Community food growing, art activities, political activism, hill walking with others, the list is endless. It doesn’t matter whether you’re labelled this or that – addict or bipolar, ex-con or prison warden – being with others (which is what ‘conversation’ means), sharing pains (which is what ‘compassion’ means) and sharing a common purpose or goal (which is what ‘community’ means), are crucial to our feeling well or feeling better.

This is not to offer a ‘miracle cure’ for anybody. Life is messy. Miracle cures are things that are sold for profit or power. It’s a fact of life that when we become involved with other people, no matter how ‘noble’ the goal, problems arise. Joining a rambling group won’t eliminate all your problems, nor will ‘getting out into nature’. Make a community film together and you’ll often come near to blows! That is life. Just watch the most highly professional football teams screaming at each other when things go wrong! There are no perfect teams or perfect anything.

But that doesn’t detract from the idea that we really do need to look at the great power of community, and give it the attention it deserves and requires. It needs much more funding and, as importantly, support and encouragement from better resourced third sector and statutory organisations which have expertise and capacity.

Just as importantly everybody needs the best individual support appropriate to alleviating and reducing distress arising from health and other life contexts. Professional and skilled workers in health, social care, law, education. Pills are not a complete answer but they may help. Citizens Advice can’t make you rich but they can remove much of the stress of debt. The Samaritan, the peer-support volunteer on the over end of the phone. The recovery café. The church, the mens shed, the user-led depression support group. The list is endless. Not magic wands, just realistic pointers to how we get and give support. Sometimes it is as simple as a kind neighbour. It’s important that we never take our eyes from where much of the best quality action really is.

Double or Quits? Gambling and the Economy

A March 2021 report from the Social Market Foundation presents analysis of the economic benefits of gambling to the economy and society. It includes the base agreed figures such as numbers employed and tax paid.

It concludes:

  • The economic analysis presented in this report is clear: while gambling supports tens of
    thousands of jobs across the UK and contributes about £8bn per annum to economic
    output directly, it seems very unlikely that this economic contribution is truly additional
    to what would have taken place if gambling did not exist. Indeed, with most other parts
    of the economy having more extensive supply chains, and thus higher economic
    multipliers, reductions in gambling expenditure through reduced rates of problem
    gambling would almost certainly be a net economic benefit as households instead spend
    money elsewhere. The Exchequer would gain too, as higher GVA and jobs in turn drive up
    tax receipts
    • This has strong implications as far as the case for regulatory reform is concerned. While
    some are calling for timid reforms – citing concerns about the negative economic impact
    of reduced gambling spend – our analysis suggests that this argument does not stand up
    to scrutiny once one considers the fact that problem gamblers would instead spend
    money elsewhere. Far from being a case for timidity, the economics of gambling –
    presented in this report – are in fact a case for bold, robust and significant regulatory
    reform. Done right, there is scope to both reduce the societal costs of problem gambling
    and realise economic gains.

For those supporters and promoters of the gambling industry whose constant demands for evidence may appear to be little more than based on rigid sloganising, one may await hopefully a reasoned, rational, evidence-based, data-derived response to the report which is here: Double-or-nothing-March-2021

We’re Closing the Site

We’ll be closing this site in a few months.

The essential parts of it – Martin’s video, Support and other links – will be transferred to  a new site. This will be produced mainly in line with a new company which will focus on distribution of our film One Last Spin. The film will be premiered in December. Then we aim to screen it at community events first in Glasgow, then throughout Scotland and possibly south of the border. After a run in film festivals, One Last Spin will be made available in the pubic domain on our new website.

We’ll also begin winding down our company The Machine Zone and its associated web and social media sites. It’s just not possible for two people to maintain the level of work involved. After four and a half years we think we have been able to make some contribution to debates. Certainly we have met some of the best people that there are. As well as countless individuals whose very existence has been life-enhancing, we thank those third sector organisations who have given us so much support.

We shall continue this site and related twitter account until domain and site hosting expire. As this site and Machine Zone wind down, a new company and site will rise! We think, and certainly hope, that by getting our film out there to as many people as possible we shall achieve a purpose at grassroots and community level. So it makes sense for us to focus just on that. There are so many things happening and beginning to happen in tackling gambling damage that we are well placed to offer a simple, clearly focused thread.

If you’re a community group anywhere in Scotland who’d like to host a screening, designed to fit with your own contexts, do get in touch. For now, the best place to contact us is info@gamblingwatchscotland.org.uk We’re also seeking directors and advisers for the new company. As we see it, the practical side of arranging screenings is pretty straightforward (famous last words!); we would hope though that each event acts as a seed for local citizen involvement and also offers clear directions for immediate support to individuals seeking help for themselves.

Whether you’re in Shetland or  the Scottish borders we look forward to meeting you at a screening. And don’t forget, if you’re outside Scotland you can also consider a screening. We also welcome expressions of interest from statutory services such as in the health and social care sectors, public health, local and national government, educational training and professional development, justice sectors, workplace and trade unionss, and anywhere where gambling harm is an issue.

This post is just a heads up. Much more to come regarding the film’s progress. We believe the film is immensely powerful based as it is on the human testimonies of those whose lived experience of gambling damage ouweigh so powerfully all the data crunching in the world. That, and the sheer professionalism, creativity and dedication of all the crew, actors, producers and director.

We’re not going away and there’ll only be a slow shift towards sole focus on the film’s distribution.

 

 

The View from Below

Here’s our presentation for the Glasgow Gambling Summit, September 2021.

It’s just short of 20 minutes. Watchable, we hope, if not of the best quality. A bit like us, really. Rough at the edges.

There is accompanying material at VIEW FROM BELOW Supplementary materials This gives a wee history of The Machine Zone, more about Chatter.org and some stuff about our film to be premiered in December.

Enjoy.

Gambling Summit Workshop Materials

The Machine Zone Community Interest Company is just three guys working very, very hard. Unpaid, driven by belief and engaged in a struggle to place responsibility where it should be (and that’s not on individuals). 

We are doing a workshop at the Glasgow Gambling Summit on 13 September. The workshop is called The View from Below. Still time to register and join us there. Whether you can make it or not you may be interested in the supplementary materials we’re supplying. Cracking piece from Chris Lee in there! SuppGGSfinalpdf

Sharks

Sharks

Most of us have been thrilled and entertained or downright terrified by Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece, Jaws. John Williams’ superb music is enough to make you wary of having a bath.

Let’s not forget the main story though. A seaside resort is heavily dependent on tourist trade. Sure, a few sharks have been seen around but there’s no real threat. Don’t listen to the Sunday school snowflakes. Jobs are at stake. The local economy is the important thing. A few people get swallowed by a shark, well sure, that’s sad but most folk can enjoy a harmless dip without any danger.

Only one man, alone against the tide, insists on the danger.

The story is similar to an 1882 play, An Enemy of the People  by Henry Ibsen which is about a doctor’s drawing attention to the fact that the town’s spa waters are contaminated with bacteria and a threat to health. Against him, the town’s authorities prioritise the money the spas bring in. (Ibsen’s deeper theme was how the individual may be a lonely voice against vested interests and opinions).

In ‘real life’ the questions are raised of who are the enemies of the people, and which side are we?

Sometimes, those who wear nice suits have some power, mix with the ‘elite’ are not right.

Sometimes, little fish need to swim against the tide and call them out for being wrong. And avoid the nets and snares.

Why We Go Beyond Gambling

We regularly feature items not focused on gambling. These include other ‘addictions’ and harms arising from products, ‘mental health’, and human rights based campaigns against inequality, injustice and exploitation. Here’s why.

Many suffering from gambling harms may also be suffering from one or more other dependence syndromes, especially alcohol.

We all suffer. Whatever form our sufferings take we can all support each other.

The journey through revovery, or whatever term is preferred is similarly difficult for everybody. 

Joining with friends in, for instant, alcohol or other hard drugs support groups enables us to learn and support each other.

We all have the same aim to improve services for NHS addiction recovery, and especially work to break down the odious institutional distinction between ‘mental health and addiction.’ It may be convenient but it is naive at best not to place at the heart of mental health the most severe, pervasive and ignored condition known as ‘addiction’

There never was a golden period for NHS and state funded addiction services but at one time things were showing signs of improvement. Then in 2010 the government stopped funding local services and left them to local and regional councils while simultaneaously reducing finance to those councils across the board.

Similarly, ‘mental health’ services have aways been the poor relative of the NHS, and today there is a crisis seen in huge waiting lists for the many millions of people in desperate need. If this is true of ‘mental health’ services, ‘addiction’ services can be seen as the disreputable relative. ‘Gambling services’ are largely invisible as the phrase ‘invisible addiction’ suggests.

Therefore, a joint effort at all levels, in our case the grassroots level, is vital to campaign for improvements.

There is a particular need for gambling harms activists to ally with third sector and lived experience groups which traditionally focus upon alcohol and other hard drugs. Similarly, working with the larger number of generic ‘mental health’ support, campaigning and advocacy groups is important.

There are groups such as aquarius which have ‘alcohol, drugs and gambling’ in their mission and publicity. In Scotland the RCA Trust similarly headlines joint services including gambling. Our own conversations with mental health, recovery and addiction organisations in Scotland suggest a great willingness to engage inclusion of gambling harms. (We leave aside in this post issues related to funding but for ourselves we work towards a landscape totally divorced from any funding from the gambling industry).

A Wider View

 

We are aware of work being done towards combined approaches to mental health teatment (including addiction). This is a very complex area. For instance it strongly emphasises the general move to see ‘health and social care’ as a unified whole, excellent in theory, a long way off in practice.

There are also growing moves towards unified understanding of addiction. While substance dependence does include a need for specific support, the idea develops that ‘addiction’ is a core state that can be addressed whatever the particular ‘addiction’. This is recognised in practice by third sector provision. It is also allied with understandings of health recovery which fully embrace ‘addiction’ as a health condition, rather than something else.

There are also new ways of conceiving ‘mental health’. One of these is to abolish the term ‘mental health’ itself both because it is, like it or not, stigmatising, and also because it ignores the realty that our woes are emotional, not ‘mental’. The implication that one you can ‘think your way out of” suffering isn’t totally without merit, but it  can imply that your pain is ‘all in your head’ (or your brain, or your pond of brain chemicals)

The word psyche is from ancient Greece and means ‘soul’. It’s not religious or ‘spiritual’. More like soul music, of which the blues is a big strain, the expression of human heights and sorrows, joys and despairs. It has been stolen by ‘Psychology’ and ‘Psychiatry’, enterprises like many others contributing to the dehumanisation of the soul, turning individuals into quantifiable fragments. We don’t ignore some of the helpful and often vital supports the experts can provide. But they don’t touch the soul. We do that, or we can do that, when we touch each other’s soul. The soul isn’t some spooky spirit that goes to heaven or hell when we die or gets reinacranted as a fruit bat. It’s blood, guts, thunder, ecstasy, despair.

If we are going through addiction we’re going through just one of many troubles that flesh is heir to. It is anguish. For many still today, religion continues to address this sort of suffering rather than brain chemicals, though, of course, a religious support by no means excludes psychological therapies and medications. For many of us who lack a religious life, soul help is from another’s soul. Listening, sharing, not judging, breaking bread together (‘companion’ means breaking bread together: we are saved by a sou; companion).

Whatever our anguish, addiction, loss, bereavement, deep depression or despair, we share our sorrows and that’s as good a reason as any not to see gambling pain as separate from all other human pain. The word ‘compassion’ means ‘to share suffering’. (‘Passion’ originally means suffering). To be compassionate is to deeply share another’s suffering.

The word addiction, by the way, comes from the Roman contract by which a slave became addicted to a master, body and soul.

Enslavement continues literally in the world today. But all of us may find our souls enslaved to any of many things.

 

Slow, hard and immensely worth it.

Slow, hard and immensely worth it.

The film we are associated with, One Last Spin, has been a long time in the making. It began as an idea for a ‘short’. We met with film director and producer Ross Donald, founder of Reverie Films based in Glasgow.  From day one he was enthused. From day one he made a commitment. From day one he has  included us in every aspect of production. And from day one we knew were working with a high calibre professional.

What was originally envisaged was a short film, between twelve and fifteen minutes in length, which was stretched to 20 then 25 minutes. From the start, Ross had plans for a ‘B Roll’, drama sequences for each story, which we are working on now.  Covid hit but not before total lockdown, so after research, procuring willingness of interviewed participants, considering between and deciding upon locations, the interviews were shot and edited over a period of time.

A lot of personal money has gone into making the film. We applied for an award from Greater Glasdow and Clyde Healthy Minds which was offered for mental health and anti-stigma. We were surprised but happy to be considered worthy of funding by the NHS. We’ve also received funding from other organisations who will be acknowledged publically in due course, and continue to seek funding for funding to screen the finished film at proposed community events throughout 2022.

We continue with other work (including this website) which tries to do its bit to raise awareness of gambling harms and campaign for regulatory changes and better treatment services. We are always looking to converse with individuals, small groups and large third sector and statutory organisations.

Learning as we go along

 

We know we are just three people with low skills bases, with little understanding of organisational structures, evaluation methods, communication skills, so we are realistic. And unpaid, as is our wonderful film director Ross and others. We are only volunteers.

But we’ve been blessed to meet so many people from different contexts, many volunteer-based like us but also organisations with expert support for volunteers, big third sector organisations and statutory health and social care institutions, Conversations with people in any of these settings has been rich and nourishing. And it’s also helped us see, for instance, that having a salaried job in the NHS doesn’t make you one of ‘them’; you are just as likely to face frustrations and stresses as you negotiate the tortuous labyrinths of bureaucracy and technocracy. ‘Wee’ have only each other for support, and our core values, our faith that survives against the odds.

Learning from the Film-Making

 

The (ropey!) footage at the top of this post shows one shot being filmed. It will be filmed again and again until the director in consultation with colleagues is happy. Before each shot is made, hours of preparation especially in lighting. Before that, months of arrangements. The elected shot may be a few seconds in the finished film or it may not be used at all. Editing is as crucial as filming. Add to it colouring, sound mixing, achieving a coherent whole for the film with its music, its opening and closing credits, its information inserts, and you start to get the idea. Don’t forget make up, propos, catering etc. etc. Next time you watch a fil, look at the closing credits to see all the many roles.  Oh, and the actors

What you don’t see, but can appreciate, is years of training and experience. You can see team work, love for the job, en-Joy-ment which involved damned hard work.tour

Few will ever see the film, though we are working ahead right to the end of next year to screen it all over Scotland and beyond in community venues, working with those communities to try and best design each event. It’s fairly typical of hundreds of community and volunteer based  initiatives in Greater Glasgow and Clyde alone.

Watching the film being made has dampened our impatience, reinforced our humility and reminded us that what is the greatest value of all is human value.

Below is an image of a few of the crew arriving at the second location, with just some of the filming equipment.