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A safe and social space

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Reclink chair exercise class

By Michael Swift

It’s a positive and empowering step to remove gambling from your life when it has become problematic. But it can also leave a gap that some struggle to fill, especially those who are lonely or socially isolated.

As part of its ongoing collaboration with the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, Reclink Australia operates an innovative ‘social prescribing’ project in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley that assists locals experiencing physical or mental health challenges, as well as those at risk of gambling harm.

Social prescribing

Social prescription is also called ‘community referral’. It enables clinical professionals such as GPs, nurses, nurse practitioners and other primary care professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical mental and physical health resources and support services.

… a marked increase in GP visits from people experiencing loneliness

The Reclink project, which evolved from its Latrobe Valley Gambling Harm Prevention Project, was adopted after Latrobe Health Assembly noted a marked increase in GP visits from people experiencing loneliness. Similar programs are being trialled in several council areas throughout Victoria.

Co-designed with local agencies, the project offers a variety of sport and recreational programs, ranging from the old favourites of lawn bowls and footy to Pilates and cooking.

Big increase in participation

'We were probably doing one to two programs a day, and now we’re running 25 programs on a good week,’ says Reclink co-senior sports coordinator Isaac Copland. ‘In the first six months we had around 1000 participants, and then the next six months just short of 4000 participants. Overall, it’s been a massive increase.’

Programs can set up wherever they may be of most use.

‘Door-step activities engage with venues that already have a customer base and are linked with gambling such as RSLs and hotels,’ explains fellow co-senior sports coordinator Laura O’Neill. ‘Given that this program also looks at gambling harm, we’ve had a lot of success running sessions at places like bowls clubs where they also have pokies.’

Pop-up programs are more casual and based in a central location where people already congregate.

‘… we’ve had a lot of success running sessions at places like bowls clubs.’
Laura O’Neill, Reclink

Though the program has conducted gambling harm awareness programs, informal interactions often help people develop a better understanding of the risks involved in gambling.

‘We call these the “carpark conversations”, where we might end up chatting with people after an event,’ continues Laura. ‘It’s a soft approach where we can refer people to other services, or just let them know that they’re available.’

For those interested in more artistic endeavours, activities include sculpting, drawing, dance and ‘messy arts’, which are as fun as the name suggests. The sensory aspects of these activities especially provide a valuable diversion for those struggling with gambling issues.

The arts programs are unique in that they offer participants ‘a different form of expressing emotions, creativity, and doing something tactile,’ says Laura. ‘They still get to have that experience of touch, instead of being at the pokies.’

A positive impact

Feedback about the project has been positive across the board, with recent surveys revealing that more than 70 per cent of participants feel more confident, better about themselves, and a greater part of the community.

For Isaac, Laura and the team, it’s satisfying to be part of a group that fosters a sense of wellbeing and offers a healthy alternative to the call of the pokies. Community support for the project has even led to the establishment of a cricket and football league involving other Melbourne-based Reclink teams.

… more than 70 per cent of participants feel more confident

‘The difference and confidence you can see in people – it might even be in just one session,’ says Laura. ‘It’s a safe and inclusive space that can be hard for people to find sometimes, so creating that space can be really special and very rewarding.’

Isaac agrees. ‘One participant talking about the program said, “This is the only time I smile during the week,” and it just shows that what we are doing is very beneficial. I just love the fact we get to make such a positive impact on the community and the individuals that come to our programs.’

Reclink activities and events in the Latrobe Valley program are free and inclusive to all abilities. To find out more, including how to participate, visit Reclink’s Facebook page or subscribe to its regular newsletter. For more information about its other programs, visit the Reclink website.

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