YGAM Trustee’s Anne & Keith Evans joined, Lee Willows, YGAM Chief Executive at the Leeds City Council Gambling Conference focused on Gambling related-harm and supporting those at risk. The conference provided an opportunity to start the discussion about how Leeds is planning to reduce gambling related harm among residents who live in the city.
Speakers included Cllr James Lewis; James Rogers, Leeds City Council Assistant Chief Executive; Dr Simon Tanner, Responsible Gambling Strategy Board; Tracy Damestani, National Casino Forum; Dr Heather Wardle and Dr Alexandra who collaborated on research for Leeds Beckett University; Dave Roberts, Financial Inclusion Manager, Leeds City Council; Dr Jane Rigbye, GambleAware and our very own Anne Evans who gave the closing speech.
Dave Roberts said ‘It was a pleasure to welcome YGAM to Leeds and in particular to hear Anne Evans addressing the conference, giving her first-hand account how her son’s gambling had affected the family in such tragic circumstances. We estimate there are as many as 10,000 problem gamblers in Leeds alone and we are keen to work with all stakeholders, including YGAM to safeguard our residents. YGAM have generously offered to help us on our journey and we are keen to work with them to raise the awareness of the potential harms from gambling among young people’.
Anne Evans said ‘We could not have asked for a warmer reception from Dave and the entire team at Leeds City Council. Living a stone’s throw away in Doncaster, I am keen that YGAM starts to replicate the huge success and momentum we have in London and the South to here in the North. I commend Leeds City Council for such an insightful day and we look forward to making a significant contribution to this work.’
The closing speech than Anne gave to the conference is as below:
“Gambling has been part of my life for over 20 years but not until recently have I begun to understand it better and realise for some people it IS life. It is a most sinister force taking over their whole life until it destroys it. It overrides loyalty, truth, family, friends, work and other interests. It becomes the focus of life and can become the end of life.
I had a son, Alan Lockhart, who gambled from being a teenager playing in Arcades at the seaside and motorway service stations. An innocent enough pastime we thought, never dreaming of any problems at the time.
However, later on as he grew older his father and I struggled to make him see sense, as money went through his hands like water. He knew his dad would always see him right. We had been propping him up and subsidising him since he was a teenager, trying to stop him gambling and getting promises he never kept. Lying comes easily to gamblers and he swore so many times that he had stopped. Few heavy gamblers ever own up to what they are doing and lost. They lose incredible amounts of money at a time and think of little else but gambling. His actions led to a huge family rift when his elder brother and sister found out how bad it was and he removed himself from us.
Shortly afterwards his dad died and two years later in 2010 at the age of 40 Alan killed himself in despair at what he had become. He had lost everything- his family, job, house, car, and income and self-respect. He died in the utmost squalor. He had even pestered for money daily from his daughter who had 2 babies at the time and could not afford to do it. She said to me that she dreaded him coming round to beg from her but could not say no. She took to hiding from him.
The huge impact of all this split my family and caused a huge black hole in my life. It took us a while to get back to normal again. During that time I was distraught at losing all my family in such a short space of time.
This addiction is what I call a secret one. It cost us an incredible amount of money. It also cost us our son.
This experience led me to question what I could have done differently to prevent all this and I felt guilty that I had not been able to do so. I then queried who I could have gone to for help and where would other people look for help. I found the local NHS and council did not offer any services or information to help addicts or their families and did not officially recognise it as an addiction although they were sympathetic.
I started to work with my local MP, Dame Rosie Winterton to ascertain what controls there were and what could be done to help and educate people as I could not understand how little was known about gambling addiction. We found little to help us but I then started to engage with the Chief Executives of various gambling companies and had a surprising amount of support from them, especially Ladbrokes and Coral.
We arranged a meeting in Rosie’s office at the House of Parliament with Carl Leaver, the CEO of Coral and his Director of Operations, Fiona Thorne. This was highly successful and very friendly and they obviously wanted to help. I believe strongly that working with the industry is vital to success as the need to protect people from gambling addiction needs to be inbuilt into the ethos of all the companies which provide it. No-one wants to run a company which kills or ruins people. It is only natural when disaster strikes a family through problem gambling that anger is directed at the industry and we were angry too at first.
However anger goes nowhere and is destructive and we must be constructive if we are to find solutions to the problem. We have met people who are so consumed by their anger they have failed to realise that the choice is upon the customer. No-one made them gamble irresponsibly.
Carl Leaver introduced me to The Senet Group, a watchdog service set up by the industry to oversee gambling issues and promote Responsible Gambling. I managed to persuade them to provide free of charge advisory leaflets and posters for every GP practice and Chemist in Doncaster which our Director of Public Health then distributed for us. It had amazed me to find help sheets on everything else but not on this topic.
A lot of publicity and media interest then followed, a TV interview on Calendar, broadcasts on BBC Radio Sheffield, Hallam and Trax FM, articles in our local paper The Free Press, and a major article by a freelance reporter in The People newspaper. Two of these broadcasts can still be found on the website for The Senet group.
Through Ladbrokes Head of Responsible Gambling, Graham Weir, I was introduced to Lee Willows, the Chief Executive of the Young Gamblers Education Trust or YGAM as it is known. He was starting a charity to educate young people about the potential risks that may arouse from gambling having suffered and recovered from major gambling problems himself. As my whole career was in Education his plan to introduce digital resilience programmes around the potential risks of gambling and gaming appealed greatly to Keith, my second husband and I, and we quickly became highly involved in supporting the charity, initially as Ambassadors. We work very closely with Lee and our Director of Education Adrian Sladdin. Both of them are inspirational.
The Educational products and materials are excellent- very easy to use and interesting. Teachers everywhere love them as they are interactive and stimulating and can be used with all senior age groups. We were delighted in 2016 to have secured the PSHE Association quality-kite mark and accreditation by the Awarding Body ASDAN for the educational rigour and relevance of our programmes.
Since then we have never looked back and grown from strength to strength. Keith and I are now Trustees of YGAM which is now a UK-registered Charity and we have used the good relationships built up with members of the gambling industry and others to support our work. We now offer Training Schemes for schools, colleges and all involved in working with young people as well as piloting a training and qualification programme for one of the largest gambling operators in the UK. We work with sports people and a football clubs.
We also worked by invitation with Cheshire and West Sussex Police last December on staff training and shall be returning to extend our work with them and with problems they have with Young Offenders.
Lee and Adrian run a huge number of Train the Teacher Sessions mainly in and around London and the Home Counties. We get our message out to thousands of people.
To help us to achieve a status of educational credibility Professor Margaret Carron at City University, London, is now voluntarily doing for us an Assessment into the effectiveness of our schemes. The outcome of this will be made available at a conference we will organise at that University later in the year. We are also about to achieve the Pearson Assured quality-standard and become an approved Pearson Educational Centre. Our aim is to have Responsible Gambling issues built into the PSHE curriculum in all schools alongside other health issues.
We were invited to work with educational leaders and the Industry in Gibraltar which we did in September 2016 and are due back there again shortly. We are also invited to go to Malta and the Netherlands to train teachers there.
Our organisation has grown rapidly and we now have several people involved in sales of our courses, and Peer Mentors in several Universities.
We are presently interviewing and appointing various key leaders of Education and Training.
We held a very successful Teacher Training Session in Doncaster and also in one of the local Academies for their School Leavers PSHE syllabus. Their Education Department have been very supportive and keen to be involved.
Dame Rosie Winterton has supported us with several sessions with MP’s at The House of Commons and she also sponsored me for a National Award for “recognition of my contribution to public health and wellbeing” last summer at The House of Commons. Keith and I were invited to help her launch National Gambling Awareness Week from the House of Commons last summer attended by leaders of the Government, Industry, and organisations involved in Responsible Gambling.
I am very keen on helping Yorkshire as a whole and Doncaster where I live to have equally good access to help as some others in the south of England enjoy, as there is so little public health support for gambling issues here at the moment. So I am delighted to be present at this Conference and hope we can all work together to make this campaign by Leeds move us towards better services for Problem Gambling for us all.
I commend Leeds Council on recognising that this problem exists and their commitment to doing what they can to minimise it. I am sure we have all learned a lot from what we have heard today. I also commend the industry and University for supporting them. We owe it to our young people and children to deliver to them the information knowledge and skills to enjoy themselves safely in whatever pastime they choose.
We have a stand outside to advertise YGAM and Lee Willows is also present to chat and advise. Finally we are running a free workshop on 15 May in Leeds, please see Lee, Keith or myself if you would like to sign up. Please look at our website - YGAM.org.