Arts for Change

 The Creative



film and television



About Me

A television drama series or soap can have a massive impact on raising awareness about gambling and challenging stigmas. Jimmy McGovern’s Broken which showed the harms of fixed odds betting terminals is an example. Cleaning Up starring Sheridan Smith was a series largely based on the true life experiences of Kelly Field, a woman who experiences devastating gambling harms. Kelly, byt the way, is one of the interviewees in our drama-documentary One Last Spin  currently in production and to be screened later this year. Television and film can not only reach millions of people, they call from audiences emotional engagement, recognition of their own life situations and a deeper connection with issues than can be achieved with information, data and so on.

Arts for change

The Power of

the Arts

Charles Dickens remains a very popular writer. In his own day his avid readers cut across class, from scullery maids to earls.

In the nineteenth century, Dickens’ work introduced millions to pressing social issues around squalor, destitution, poverty, inequality and injustice. His books were very imortant to bring about reforms.

There have been countless novels and poems that have been involved with social movements and campaigning, works which opened up worlds that readers had been ignorant about and firing them to demand change. In mental health, especially in recent times, millions have been horrified by films and books which explore cruel treatments, while portraying very sympathetic characters bearing stigmas of madness. One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a good example.

Creative writing and journal keeping have been shown to be great self-help methods in lessening mental and emotional distress. A writing group adds the bonus of sharing, another crucial component of mental health. There is a thing called bibliotherapy. Here groups consider pieces of literature, share their feelings and discuss how it relates to their ow lives.

Many find writing a great way to order their feelings, often not knowing what they felt until they hve written it. Reading is not only pleasurable. It introduces you to new worlds and characters, the joys and pains of life, and provides a means to see that so much we thought was peculiar to us is experienced by many: this helps lessen isolation, and reduces any shame we may have.

From Calligraphy to Gardening

so much

Painting, dancing, singing, gardening, photography, theatre, sculpture, writing, reading, music….

Arts & Health

The evidence is in. The arts provide a proven source of wellbeing. In medicine, there is a strong awareness of the value of the ‘humanities’ – arts in general. Trainee doctors are encouraged to read literature to gain insight into potential patients’ lives and circumstances, for instance. ‘Art Therapy’ is one example of using painting, sculpture and related forms to improve mental health.

It would be naive to suggest that learning a musical instrument or writing poetry will solve ll your problems. But such things help, and are well worth considering.

We have a particular interest in how the arts can raise awareness and challenge stigma.

We also believe that things like participating in drama are powerful ways of engaging with important issues in mental health and addiction. The taking part, working mutually, seeing a project develop, experiencing feedback from a performance are all core benefits of the activities.

Arts-based work in schools, prisons, hospitals, community centres and many more places is dynamic and powerful, and it’s a shame that this is not more widely recognised and resourced by policy makers. In Scotland, we have the fine example of Fast Forward which uses drama and other arts to work with young people; this includes work around gambling.

A brilliant organisation running since 1992 in England is Theatre is TIPP (Theatre in Prison and Probation) which works in prisons and young offenders’ institutes, and with young people at risk. Their website is well worth a vist.



Scottish Mental Heath Association Arts Festival


Now in its 15th year, the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival (SMHAF) is one of Scotland’s most diverse cultural events, covering everything from music, film and visual art to theatre, dance, and literature.

In 2021, SMHAF will take place from 3-23 May – online at and in regions across Scotland – and explore the theme of ‘Normality?’.

It aims to support the arts, explore how engagement in the arts can help prevent mental ill health, and challenge mental health stigma. Led by the Mental Health Foundation, SMHAF combines high artistic quality with strong grassroots support, community engagement and social activism.

By engaging with artists, connecting with communities and forming collaborations, we celebrate the artistic achievements of people with experience of mental health issues, exploring the relationship between creativity and the mind, and promoting positive mental health and wellbeing.

Literature and Addiction


There are many classic novels about addiction.

One of the most famous is Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Gambler. There are fewer novels about gambling than addiction to drugs and alcohol, though essentially whether it is a substane or a behaviour, addiction has common roots and we can learn from all of them whatever our addiction may be.

As mentioned above, medicine has always been closely connected with literature, In the case of Dostoevsky’s novel, there is a feature about it from the Royal College of Psyychiatrists at RCP Doestoevsky Gambler

On a more modest but perhaps more important level, there are now many opportunities to share stories such as at the Scottish Recovery Network. Personal stories appear in the man websites set up by gambling users by experience. A particular rise in sharing is through podcasts. Podcasts, themselves an art form, are relatively easy to set up and reach good numbers.

Similarly many are ‘vlogging’ – video pieces. Some are making high quality films such as those you can see on the Home page of Gambling with Lives



Using film screenings to raise public awareness of mental health

Here ia  a great article from Nursing Times about the power of film to open up conversations between the public and health professionals. A focus on challenging stigma and discrimination.


Forward with the Arts!

Create, get involved. You don’t have to become arty-farty! The benefits are amazing. A crucial central benefit for people in recovery is that a attachment to something positive and enjoyable can block out attachment to negative thoughts, beahviour and preoccupation with gambling. In  our interview with Martin, he speaks of finding pleasure in reading and returning to learning to play the saxophhone.

Create, get involved in campaigning. Start or join a campaign. Develop design skills to make posters and leaflets (OK, I know we could do with developing our own skills!). Build websites, set up podcasts, make films, write plays. Find others to collaborate with. Take the great chance to join places offering arts based activities such as Drumchapel Arts Workshop (DRAW),  an exemplary community organisation which is for people of all backgrounds and skills levels.

Broaden your horizons. Those of us with mental and emotional pain often feel trapped in a small world. But if we feel unsafe we’d prefer to stay there than venture out. The arts provide a safe way out. Doing something you’ve never done before – Martin mentions going to a theatre – can be invigorating. Solitary activities such as reading, writing, drawing, making and listening to music, trying plays on the radio, are all safe ways to expand. Actually, it’s not only people who carry a mental health diagnosis who benefit from the arts. We all have a tendency to seek safety and construct our world to provide it, maybe making solid boundaries between it and the unfamiliar. Of art, it’s common to hear people say ‘I know what I like’ whereas they often mean ‘I like what I know’. Going beyond the safety zone is life enhancing. Not ony in the arts but in all aspects of life such as beginning volunteering (giving rather than taking has been proven many times to result in a happier life) or starting a hobby or sport.

And while the great concert halls of Glasgow and its many art galleries may seem intimidating, remember that the arts include homely activities such as carpentry, cooking, knitting, hundreds of crafts. There is much more than one thing to try. Most of these involve little cost and you will find yoursef absorbed in them rather than in some dreary cycle of misery.

Gambling Watch Scotland

Sewing, knitting, carving, crochet, all crafts and arts. We hope to develop our site’s attenton to the arts in relation to addiction, mental health and gambling harms. We want to encourage them and find articles and community opportunities which do this.

We’re also very keen to locate the arts as powerful means to raise awareness and challenge stigma.

At The Machine Zone, which is the organisation behind Gambling Watch Scotland, we are focused on the arts. The video of Martin is a case in point. It’s not just somebody pointing their phone! It took months of preparation. The filming was with top professional cameras. The lighting was designed precisely. The sound was recorded and mixed expertly.

We have a bigger project in production that’s been severely delayed by the pandemic. This is One Last Spin which features eight interviews interspersed with drama sequences. This again is being produced to the highest quality and we will make it available here later in the year.

Also delayed by the pandemic is delivery of a drama piece about gambling for residents of Barlinnie prison in Glasgow.

We have also published two works of fiction, a novel and a collection of short stories both about addiction. No great shakes, written by Adrian under the pen name Ade Johnston, these were self-published on Amazon. Such self-publishing, by the way, is a great idea for individuals and groups to explore. It can be done without any cost whatsoever. You can write a novel or memoir or maybe work with others to share views and experiences of gambling.


“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.

Albert Einstein

The Power of Imagination


Every worthwhile enterprise begins with a powerful vision. Later on things like data and statistics and funding and evaluation and bureaucracy and the everyday frustrations that come with implementing policies and strategies can make us lose sight of the vision in the priorities of the day. That’s why we need to regularly remind ourselves of the founding vision. A vision is produced by the imagination. It may occur quickly as an aha! moment or more slowly in reaction to contexts. It involves thinking outside the box but to think outside the box you have to go outside the box and this requires imagination.

A vision may involve splitting from customary and institutional values and practices. It may involve working within them. It may be a shared vision on a very large scale such as in addressing society’s many structural injustices or inequalities. It may be more modest, such as a dedication to feeding one’s community when austerity bites. It may involve a vision that takes many years to achieve practical outcomes wich require funding, recognition and overcoming the many bureaucratic obstacles. It will certainly require support from others, initially at an informal level.

History shows that there have been addiction recovery services based around participatory arts, sports and training such as in digital literacy. Housed in a building allowing people to come and go, share a coffee and chat, with timetabled activities, onsite or available specialist supports services. We frequently hear about ‘evaluation’ which refers to ‘value’. Another word for value is quality. So we talk about our quality of ife, for instance. Unfortunately, evaluation demands often come from external agencies such as health commissioners or other funders who require precise numerical data and neat ‘evidence’ that a client has ‘progressed’. This is usually set in time frames. History has also shown that al addiction services  (including third sector organistaions) have had funding severely restricted in the past decade. An arts based organisation will  suffer more because its services are deemed ‘soft’ whereas the fuder demand ‘hard’ data.

The value of the arts to our quality of life is downplayed by discourses which emphsise the economic aspects of humanity, specifically their employment and skills bases. Yet those who have delivered the arts in mental health contexts and those who have benefited know far more than data can ever show their immense value and potential to change life for the better.

Ultimately, a vision and a commitment involves going against the grain, against cutomary and dominant ways of seeing the world, and going on even against so many more powerful and much better resourced voices.



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