On the 30th. June 2010, Anne Evans received some devastating news that would change her life forever. After suffering for around 25 years with a gambling addiction, Anne’s son Alan tragically committed suicide at the age of 40. 10 years since that heart-breaking day, Anne has written poignantly about the journey she has been on and why she is so passionate about safeguarding future generations.
For a mother, the death of a son will never get easier, but you somehow find the strength to turn these feelings into a motivation. Last week’s anniversary was another emotional day but also a touching moment to bring together Alan’s children and family. We held a small service to honour and celebrate the memories we cherish at the crematorium.
I am now 86 years old and the anniversary has compelled me to reflect on what has happened since that day. In the years following Alan’s funeral, I was determined to help make sure other mothers and families would not have to experience the hurt that I did. To my astonishment, I quickly realised that there was very little support or information on gambling addiction. In fact, it was a challenge to find someone who realised that gambling addiction could lead to suicide.
I took this concern everywhere and received lots and lots of sympathy but little action, then everything changed when I was introduced to Lee Willows who quickly became our very dear friend. Lee told me about his own devastating experience with gambling and his impassioned desire to prevent others suffering. We are both former teachers, so we immediately focused on what education is being provided to young people to safeguard them from harm. In 2014, we founded the Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust (YGAM) and the inspirational journey we have been on since has been truly heart-warming.
Six years on, YGAM is now collaboratively delivering a £10 million national education program and aims to reach over 3 million young people over the next 4 years. Lee works more hours a week than anyone I know, and words cannot describe the gratitude I have for the contribution he has made to safeguard young people in this country. I would love to see YGAM continue to grow especially into the key education and health circles. Being a founding patron of the charity is a badge I wear with enormous pride.
Another individual who has played an instrumental role over the past few years is Matthew Gaskell. We live in Doncaster and Matthew is a Consultant Psychologist and Clinical Lead at the Leeds & York Partnership Foundation Trust. He was one of the first professionals to listen to my experience and has since led the way in providing treatment and support for gambling-related harm. Last year, I was honoured to be invited by Matthew and Leeds Council to officially open the first NHS gambling service outside London in Leeds. The opening of the Leeds clinic meant so much to me personally and will always be one of the proudest moments of my life. He also opened a clinic in Sunderland and one near Manchester. Matthew is a very dear friend and one to whom I am most grateful.
Today it is encouraging to see gambling debated by policy makers and politicians, however this was not the case 10 years ago. I remember writing to several Ministers and Government departments but unfortunately, I did not receive any meaningful responses. This did change when I met my fantastic local MP Dame Rosie Winterton. Rosie acted not only as our voice in Westminster but also as a compassionate friend whom I will always value.
In 2016, Rosie put me forward to receive an NHS National Award for Excellence in Public Health and Wellbeing for work done regarding gambling problems. She has worked with us to raise awareness and help us progress with our plans. I will be eternally grateful to Rosie because our achievements over the last 10 years would not have been possible without her assistance in our early years.
I am always thankful for all the help received from my dear husband of ten years, Keith, which has been vital to our success. He has accompanied me since 2011 and done his best to promote and encourage our work, taking on my family problems as his own, and is a very important part of our growth and our successes.
Looking ahead, I believe we are moving in the right direction and there are some extremely talented people working hard to make a difference. There will always be a wide spectrum of opinions on what needs to be done to reduce gambling harms and all these views should be welcomed. There is no perfect solution. We need a diverse spread of perspectives to engage in the debate. We must respect all the different views and always be kind.
Finally, I would like to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has listened, supported, and hugged me over the past 10 years. I include all the YGAM team in this. You have helped make a mother very proud.
Thank you all so much.
YGAM Founder Patron