April 28, 2021

Helping one person might not change the world but it could change the world for that one person

Matt Blanks

It all started as an innocent 11-year-old asked to pick a horse by my grandad, that horse won at 33/1 this really excited me, and my grandad rewarded me financially for picking this winner. Looking back, it was the worst thing that could have happened! From that moment every weekend I would go to my grandads write out my lucky 15 on the horses and we would walk up the betting shop together to place our bets. Being inside the betting shop was an environment that excited me seeing money change hands watching the horses and dogs running and chatting to with grandads’ friends about what horses I fancied.

Myself and my grandad used to play different card games and dominos for money and a Saturday morning up the snooker club I’d play on the fruit machine with my grandad, gambling was normalised to me from a young age, at that time I didn’t see an issue with it. From the age of 15 I started putting my own bets on with my pocket money, I was never challenged for ID on my age I knew how to write and stake all my bets. My friends would be out playing football or different games I used to sit in and watch the horses on a Saturday afternoon missing out on those opportunities the emergence of gambling related harm started.

At the age of 17 my nan passed away leaving me an inheritance for my driving lessons and a car, neither happened as I went on to lose it all gambling including £1000 on a horse at royal ascot all this was done before I was legally old enough to gamble. Surly I wouldn’t go near gambling again after all this? You would think so but not me! A year later I was working in a betting shop my dream job at the time getting paid for working in an environment that had always excited me and one I’d always found comfort from.

I went on to work in the betting shops for 16 years suffering from multiple gambling related harms during that time! I changed as a person I became very selfish, lied to people to get my hands on money, taking out lines of credit, racking up debt, losing relationships with people, not performing in my job I could go on. I knew I had a problem with gambling for a long time due to my job, the people I chose to hang around with and the person I had become I found it so hard to break the cycle will power alone wasn’t enough.

It wasn’t until I hit my rock bottom and my life had fallen apart before I knew I needed help and I needed to fully commit to this for the first time in my life. I exposed myself as having a problem with gambling to my gambling operator, they put me in contact with Betknowmore UK. Frankie Graham Founder & CEO of BKM UK began to mentor me through my recovery I remember my first call with Frankie clear as day I’d only ever had conversations with fellow gamblers in my life I’d never met or spoke to anyone about recovery it was a refreshing phone call where I could talk openly about my addiction without fear of being judged.

Frankie came to meet me in Southend at a coffee shop we discussed all manner of things recovery focused and it was at this first meeting I shared practically my life story to a relative stranger, but it felt comfortable to do so knowing Frankie’s history with gambling himself. It was also at this meeting that I disclosed I’d like to do a job helping others in my position.

I started to volunteer with BKM sharing my story and helping with some ongoing projects. I quickly learnt I had to leave the betting shops in order to aid my recovery, very much like an alcoholic working in a pub the environment of working in a betting shop as a gambling addict would have been too much for me and my recovery.

After volunteering with BKM for a few months I got taken on as a full-time community outreach worker using all the skills Frankie had taught me in my recovery, I began to pass these on with my own ‘lived experience’ to others currently suffering. My position as community outreach was a very successful one with positive outcomes on other people’s lives at the same time it helps cement my own recovery.

The conception of Peer Aid evolved at the back end of 2019 where I applied for one of the co-ordinator roles and much to my delight and surprise, I was offered the service manager role, a role that I proudly perform today. The Peer Aid service we provide free training to gamblers in recovery to effectively and safely provide Peer Support to gamblers currently suffering from gambling related harms.

I feel I have come such a long way in a relative short space of time coming up to my 3 years in recovery my world has completely changed for the better, because of one man (Frankie Graham) and one charity (BKM) this is something that will stick with me forever and a message I very much carry in my work within Peer Aid and BKM. Through my work I support not only those going through the Peer Aid training programme but also my team and still have contact with those currently suffering from gambling related harms.

I get so much satisfaction from seeing people turn their lives around making positive change and informed decisions and being a part of that journey gives me much more than any bet or any win ever could. So, in summery from my own experience of going through recovery with BKM and now the work I do for BKM what have I learnt?

“Helping one person might not change the world….but it could change the world for that one person”
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