THE MACHINE ZONE
Community Interest Company
ORIGINS AND TODAY
This is an amended and updated version of a piece written by Director Adrian Bailey, and is a personal take on how The Machine Zone started and where it’s at now. The original piece was included as supplementary material to a workshop presented at the Glasgow Gambling Summit in September 2021.
Once upon a time, well some time in early 2017, I met Martin. We’d arranged to meet in Glasgow’s Mitchell Library. While in the queue for coffee Martin mentioned that he didn’t do libraries. I mentioned the one-time gangster Jimmy Boyle who ‘reformed’ while in an experimental unit at Barlinnie Prison. How he’d later looked both ways before going into a library, didn’t want to be caught breaking hard men’s codes of behaviour.
‘That’s a name you don’t hear much these days,’ said Martin.
Funnily enough, a few years later, Martin met and befriended the actor David Hayman who played Boyle in the 1981 film A Sense of Freedom, and David’s one of many who have helped us out. But that’s jumping ahead.
We sat with our coffee. Martin was in bits after the recent unexpected death of his son. His grieving was bound with his feelings of guilt for having not been there for his family while in the grip of gambling addiction. This, and fury about something called fixed odds betting terminals.
I knew nothing about gambling. Martin was convinced that gambling itself was a destroyer, but these machines were something else. The crack cocaine of gambling, he said. Four in each bookies, six bookies within walking distance of each other. He’d played roulette on them, got hooked. You could bet £100 a spin, and have three spins in a minute.
I’d come to meet Martin after someone suggested to someone that I may be able to offer help to a guy who wanted to write a book. (At the time I was working with reading and writing groups in health settings). I asked him what sort of book.
‘Don’t know. I’ve never read a book.’
Before I could consider this, he added that he also wanted to make a film and stage a theatre play.
I suggested we meet again soon. Before parting, he took me into a bookies on Sauchiehall Street to show me a machine. He slid in a £20 note to show how to lose in fifteen seconds. That was my introduction to modern gambling.
Before meeting Martin again, I did some research and was both horrified and angered at what was going on in modern Britain. The nature and prevalence of gambling damages seemed to be going on invisibly to most of us. Since that time, everybody we’ve spoken to who’s become aware of the issue has been similarly appalled and angry.
My own background included lived experience of substance addiction then later on working in the recovery field, but while harms from alcohol and other hard drugs were high on the agenda of concern, I’d never heard mention of gambling. It struck me from the start, that victim of it or not, gambling harm represents a major health issue that all of us should be addressing.
Having had experience setting up a community interest company I suggested to Martin we do the same. I said we would need a company if we ever applied for funding.
‘They’ll never give us a penny,’ Martin replied glumly.
This expressed one aspect of lived experience. ‘They’ will never do anything about it. Still, Martin allowed me to fill in the forms and The Machine Zone was born.
The phrase machine zone comes from a book, ‘Addiction by Design’ by anthropologist Natasha Dow Schull who spent fifteen years among machines, punters and industry people in Las Vegas. The zone is, among other things, a place where the world goes away, winning or losing are not important. The machines are designed to lure people to the zone.
“Everything else falls away. A sense of monetary value, time, space, even a sense of self is annihilated in the extreme form of this zone that you enter.”
- Natasha Dow Schull
We were finding on social media, mainly twitter, many other individuals coming from the same place as us. Some were starting their own groups. We set up a website https://themachinezone.com and a sister site https://beatthefix.com which concentrated on fixed odds betting terminals.
We put a lot of time along with many others into campaigning to reduce the maximum stake on FOBTs from £100 to £2. Against the protests of the gambling industry and its supporters, the campaign was successful, and new legislation introduced. As today, the campaign featured voices like our own, public health, medical professions, psychiatrists, churches, mosques, temples, politicians, newspapers, and many others. The house of ‘them’ has many rooms.
Martin was being sought increasingly for media interviews – local, regional and national; newspapers, radio and television. Even the New York Times came looking for him! We also published a couple of fiction books wot I wrote under our own impress, MacZon Press, and a drama piece scheduled for performance at Barlinnie Prison pre-Covid. Martin was also going to Westminster for meetings curated by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Harms. Martin was involved with ‘them’! One of them is Ronnie Cowan, Inverclyde MP and Vice Chair of the group who appears in our film, One Last Spin .
We continued to link with grassroots individuals and groups, some of these becoming nationally prominent. In particular, The Big Step is a campaign which organises walks between and around football grounds to campaign against gambling advertising in football. This group is linked with Gambling with Lives, an organisation set up by Liz and Charles Ritchie and families who have lost their children to gambling suicide. In 2020 Martin and others did a walk between Rangers and Celtic grounds. In 2021 Martin walked the first leg of the Big Step Walk between Scotland and Wembley Stadium to coincide with the European Internationals, Martin covering Gretna to Kendal. In 2022 he did the full whack of The Big Step’s walk between Edinburgh and Glasgow.
So. We were growing without any ‘business plans’, strategies, etc. It has all been chance and meeting people. All we had was our time to give (and our own money, a couple of thousand over the first three years for costs that add up – website hosting, software leaflets, travel etc.)
Then, one day just idly surveying local community organisations with a vague view of seeing if we could get involved with something vaguely around gambling, I dropped an email to COPE Scotland based in Drumchapel, very near where I live. Twenty minutes later I got a reply from Hilda Campbell, founder of COPE more than 30 years ago. Warm, encouraging and human, she said she’d flagged gambling as a major issue back in 2007 but there had seemed nowhere to go with it. But she was now partnered with the Alliance for Health and Social Care Scotland’s three-year strategy for reducing gambling harms nationally. Wow! Shortly afterwards we were welcomed to the Alliance lived experience forum and opened to an mazing number of places in Glasgow alone from the ‘them’ sector (council, public health, voluntary services etc.) all working on gambling harms. The manager of the Alliance’s Scotland Reducing Gambling Harms programme was Will Griffiths who has since moved to another role (but not before appearing in our film!) He gave us incredible support, even arranging some financial support for our film.
Hilda encouraged us to bid for an award from Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Healthy Minds Anti-Stigma and we were successful. Hilda and COPE Scotland continue to offer and actualise support. That funding went on our website https://gamblingwatchscotland.org and towards our film, both of these seen as integral elements of one project. I was the contact point for this award and was lucky to receive, with other people who got funded, ongoing support from NHS Healthy Minds and See Me via online meetings.
In September 2021 we presented a workshop at the Glasgow Gambling Summit organised by Public Health Scotland and Glasgow City Council.
At every step of our journey it has been individuals who have been key. Our fellow activists, of course, but our eyes have been well and truly opened to the fact that the ‘them’ contains many wonderful individuals, often limited, frustrated and constrained by the many ‘thems’ above and around them. We couldn’t dream a few years ago that a CEO, far from being a them is one of us!
Our current time is mostly spent on getting the film distributed as widely as possible.
One thing came by good fortune in helping us get the film out there. John Myers, one of the contributors to the film, had been interviewed by radio presenter Sylvia Fortune about the tragic lss of his son Ryan to gambling. Shortly afterwards, Sylvia interviewed the musician, songwriter and singer Amanda Lehmann about her music. After the interview they got chatting, and Sylvia mentioned how her eyes had been opened by John to the prevalence and severity of gambling harm. Amanda watched our film and was horrified. She decided to write a song which she has done, totally for free as the director of the film, Ross Donald, worked tremendously hard for free. We’re currently sending the song with background material to radio stations throughout Scotland. Both Sylvia and Amanda continue to raise awareness of gambling harms through their radio work.
As well as our focus on the film, we continue to work with others. Martin’s involved with a Scottish organisation Street Cones which works by gathering people with lived experience towards producing a creative piece. We’re also working with a suicide prevention partnership based in Glasgow. With an ambition to see recovery from gambling harms included in the work of substance recovery organisations we are linking with the Scottish Recovery Consortium.
We’ve worked alongside statutory, grassroots and larger Third Sector organisations. But always it has been individuals at the centre, whatever their organisational roles. Opportunities have arisen organically as we’ve approached or been invited by such people.
The film is the culmination of our work so far in believing that an ‘arts based’ approach to raising awareness is important. We see our main aim as being to raise awareness across communities while at the same time influencing the workers who design and deliver services to communities.
We’ll continue to emphasise partnership working – not just as a pretty phrase but as the central foundation of what we do.
The main current work is on film distribution. This will include community screenings for the general public and specific community organisations, for instance those dealing with mental health and substance recovery. At the same time we will be ‘targeting’ specific statutory sectors such as in the justice system, education, health and social care training and professional development. We’ll also seek involvement with organisations employing the arts in recovery and mental health.
We operate on a very small scale so see our work essentially as a small stream contributing to a wider flow. Our development will be sideways rather than ‘scaling up’ to be something bigger (and different). We seek and need and gratefully accept all the advice and support we can get. The latter includes funding – which in the scheme of things is relatively low.
We will continue to work on a purely voluntary basis but should our work load increase as anticipated we would appreciate funding to cover expenses. We may also seek funding for a worker to help with administration (answering emails, general administration etc.). Our five years history has included a great deal of hit and miss ‘research’ – discovering networks, keeping up with relevant news etc. but also more fine-tuned seeking of specific partnership opportunities. We’d be helped greatly by a research worker here who would receive modest remuneration, a role perhaps appealing to a student in the field or somebody in recovery, or both. And we’d always welcome volunteers.
Within the next month we’ll produce a ‘business plan’ setting out more formally our plans for the next few years. Among these will be a total rethink of our websites. One aspect of this is that next year the film will be embedded at the centre of a new website which will contain supplementary content, and which we hope will be produced in partnership with others, and designed professionally.