(L to R) Minister for Health Jill Hennessy, ReSPIN speaker Pat Burns, ReSPIN coordinator Kate Sommerville, ReSPIN speaker David E and Parliamentary Secretary for Carers and Volunteers Gabrielle Williams. Photo: Department of Health and Human Services
‘I started using pokies because things were difficult at home …’
Conny stands before a group of 100 school crossing supervisors from the City of Whittlesea, a municipality in Melbourne’s north with poker machine losses of $102 million a year.
Whittlesea Council has arranged this talk as part of a health and wellbeing program for staff. The packed room has already listened to a presentation from the council’s social planner, Rebecca Sirianni, about the extent of harm from poker machines in the area. Now they are listening to someone who has experienced this harm.
Conny speaks from the heart
In her early sixties, Conny McLaughlin is like many of those in the audience – a wife, mother and grandmother. She hasn’t gambled for 13 years but this is the first time she has spoken before such a large group.
Her words come from the heart, tinged with sadness and humour. She didn’t fully understand what was happening when she gambled, but she knew she couldn’t stop. In fact, she didn’t stop until she and her husband were declined a bank loan on their dream home.
It was that, and the unfolding impact of her compulsive gambling on her family, that drove Conny to seek help. As well as seeing a counsellor, she became involved in various peer support groups. Conny believes that ‘giving back’ and working with others has played a key part in her recovery. Her personal story puts a human face on gambling harm.
The audience is captivated by both presentations and a lively discussion follows.
Great commitment and bravery
Conny is one of 15 volunteers with ReSPIN Gambling Awareness Speakers Bureau, which recruits and trains people who have experienced gambling harm to share their stories with community and professional audiences.
The ReSPIN speakers are men and women from business and trade backgrounds, teachers, childcare workers, nurses, former policemen, writers, artists and parents. They have experienced all types of gambling.
These people use their stories and expertise to break down the stigma attached to gambling harm and to encourage understanding and help-seeking. Their narratives also represent the hope and resilience that is part of the gambling journey.
In recognition of their work to raise community awareness and prevent gambling harm, ReSPIN recently received a 2016 Minister for Health Volunteer Award for ‘Outstanding achievement by a volunteer: innovation’.
The award stated: ‘ReSPIN volunteers have overcome the stigma and difficulty attached to their own gambling and recovery. They make a deliberate decision to reach out to others in order to prevent similar harm, and aid help-seeking in others who may be affected. This takes great commitment and bravery.’
ReSPIN is run by the North East Primary Care Partnership and funded by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation's Local Prevention Grants Program.
ReSPIN can work anywhere in Melbourne or regional Victoria and can tailor presentations to suit audiences.
If you are interested in becoming a ReSPIN speaker or would like to book a speaker, please contact ReSPIN coordinator Kate Sommerville on (03) 9450 2633.