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Feature article - Gambling related harm - Wigan Council's Journey

It was the work of Wigan Council’s Welfare Reform group that highlighted the negative impacts that harmful gambling was having on individuals and families and suggested that the provision of more help and support was needed, to tackle the issue in Wigan.

Consequently, the Council formed a partnership with Beacon Counselling Trust who provides free support services for individuals and families affected by problem gambling across the North West of England.

Beacon Counselling Trust was initially invited to outline the context and impact of harmful gambling to Wigan Council’s senior management team. From hearing about the scale of this often-hidden issue and the impact harmful gambling has within communities, there was universal commitment that action was needed to support Wigan residents.

Within weeks, the Wigan Borough Problem Gambling Working Group would be formed, to begin to develop a whole-borough, system wide approach, to tackle the negative impacts that problem gambling brings.  This Problem Gambling Working Group is a multiagency group, which includes representatives from colleagues working across the Council (e.g. welfare, licensing, homes, children’s services and public health) as well as colleagues from our local partner organisations (e.g. health, DWP, voluntary and third sector).  Having diverse service representation within the Group has allowed the group to draw on the array of skills, knowledge and assets that colleagues bring, which was recognised as being pivotal to shape a truly whole system approach to tackling harmful gambling.

An action plan was subsequently developed with the following objectives: - 

  • Raise awareness amongst the workforce about the risks of harmful gambling, providing them with the necessary tools to be able to have a conversation about gambling and provide them with the knowledge and information on the assets available to refer or signpost residents towards.
  • Across the life course raise awareness amongst residents about harmful gambling and promote the support that is available to help individuals and families who are affected by harmful gambling.
  • To embed the gambling harm screening tool into targeted Council and partner organisation triage/assessment processes where problem gamblers may present themselves, to help identify and provide support, earlier.
  • To develop indicators for monitoring the implementation of the programme to measure and demonstrate impact.

The Group now meets monthly to drive progress towards meeting these objectives. The action plan is continually evolving as the group collectively learn, gathers further intelligence from the data and evidence available; and not forgetting the invaluable wealth of knowledge and expertise shared to the group from professionals working within the field of gambling-related harm. 

Spotlight on some local areas of development:

1)    Frontline staff (and wider partners) briefing

It was important to ensure that frontline staff had the necessary understanding and awareness about problem gambling, the ability and confidence to engage with residents and to help identify those who may be at risk of gambling-related harm plus the knowledge to refer to appropriate support if required.

The staff briefing, branded as “embedding the offer”, outlined the reasons for doing this and how to do it, by adopting the keyworker approach and having true, asset-based conversations with residents.  Staff were provided with the right tools to assess harm by utilising the GAST-G screening tool, allowing staff to consider whether the resident would benefit from extra support from the local gambling counselling provider, Beacon Counselling Trust, who now has delivery hubs based within Council and community venues across the borough. 

All leads from the Problem Gambling Working Group were instrumental with cascading this information to their respective teams, with the GAST-G screening questions being embedded into key triage/assessment processes. 

2)   Internal staff (and wider partners) - communications and training

As well as the commitment to protecting residents from the risks of harmful gambling, Wigan Council pledged to care for the wellbeing of its primary asset – its workforce.  Therefore, another key delivery strand was to ensure staff were also made aware of the dangers of harmful gambling and the rich resources available, should they need them.  This was achieved through the delivery of an internal communication plan, which included

  • Staff intranet and weekly round-up articles, promotional intranet banners, screensavers about harmful gambling and the support available were produced.  These messages were amplified further, via posts to the Council’s internal BeWigan staff Facebook group.
  • Problem gambling awareness article with call to action was included within the corporate Team Time briefing, which is distributed to all managers, who cascade information to all members of their team.
  • Embedding the harmful gambling support offer into the existing mental health wellbeing offer for staff.  Further to this, both the Council’s staff Mental Health Wellbeing Champions and the Health and Wellbeing Champions were briefed to highlight all the support available, so they can provide the support and  guidance to colleagues in their supportive roles. 
    • As part of a Men’s Health Week staff wellbeing event, a former harmful gambler shared his personal story directly with staff, so staff could learn first-hand, the negative, life changing, impact that harmful gambling can cause.
    • YGAM facilitated a workshop to increase the knowledge and understanding of gaming and gambling-related harm in the UK, for staff and partners working with children and young people.
      • Awareness sessions delivered by Beacon Counselling Trust were provided to Wigan Council and wider partners across Wigan, upskilling over 400 staff. Harmful gambling sessions are continuing to be rolled out to frontline staff (plus local businesses and community groups) by public health workforce.

3)     Improved web presence

It is apparent that gambling attracts considerable public stigma and is a significant reason for problem gamblers not seeking help, especially in person.  Therefore, it was important that Wigan’s problem gambling webpage was easy to navigate and equipped with the resources to improve the user journey and help residents find the information and support they require, including:-

  • Self-help material
  • GAST-G screening tool
  • Tips on how to spot the signs of problem gambling
  • Do’s and Don’ts when gambling
  • Details of local and national advice and support services who provide bespoke offers, tailored to the individual.

Furthermore, Wigan’s website promotes support available, via the Community Book, which is a free online directory, allowing residents to connect with local services, support, activities and events in their community.  Problem gambling counselling services are accessible through this, as well as many other services related to the comorbidities of harmful gambling.

4)     Gaining local insight 

The public health team has commenced engagement with local colleges to undertake gambling surveys with students to gain greater intelligence into gambling amongst young people.  This has started to provide valuable insight into gambling related behaviours amongst students.  This work is being upscaled further in the new academic year to expand the reach.

5)    Gambling premises/licensing

Wigan’s regulatory services have carried out inspections to gambling premises, licensed under the Gambling Act 2005, to ensure they are compliant with the legislation, whilst also introducing the GAST-G screening tool, which has been well received. The work fed into Wigan’s Gambling Policy Statement, which has been refreshed in June 2019.  The policy aims to ensure that gambling in Wigan is conducted in a fair and open way, preventing crime and protecting children and other vulnerable people.

The next steps for Regulatory Services will be to write to all of Wigan’s licensed operators to promote the screening tool further and obtain feedback on the steps they are taking to promote safer gambling, with a view of encouraging operators obtaining GamCare’s Safer Gambling Standard.

Next Steps for Wigan

Although monumental progress has been made to raise awareness of gambling-related harm and develop system wide change, it is recognised that this is only the start of the journey and there is plenty of scope to enhance the activity in Wigan further.  We are already building on the existing marketing and awareness collateral developed, and plans are already underway in producing a public facing harmful gambling awareness campaign with the aim to encourage even more residents to connect into the help and support that is available.  Watch this space!

By Russ Gaskell, Wigan Council’s Transformation Project Officer

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