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Laura Hay and Rebecca Ruwhiu-Collins


At the MPGH Training Forum in Wellington we caught up with Laura Hay, a rising star in gambling harm prevention. Laura is a health promoter with the Salvation Army Oasis Centre for Problem Gambling in Christchurch and she was recognised this year with the prestigious dapaanz Newcomer award. 


Tell us about this award, were you expecting to win?

I knew nothing about it! I felt sick when they called my name – the girl before me who won an award said she had no idea she’d been nominated. I thought she was just pretending and then they called my name and I couldn’t believe it. I was the only South Island award recipient and the only recipient for working in the gambling harm prevention space.


Why do you think they chose you? What’s special about the work that you’re doing?

I haven’t seen the nomination criteria, but I think they liked my enthusiasm. I’ve had a big focus on networking. Even though I still get nervous speaking in public places! If I’m going into a room to make friends I’m socially awkward and get really nervous but if I’m going into a room to talk about work I’ve got no nervousness at all, you’ve got to get in people’s faces to be effective and force them to pay attention. It really works! I’ve had a focus on the West Coast communities recently; I went over there for a two-day presentation to service providers because there aren’t any gambling-specific services. There was so much interest that we had to extend the presentation for another day.


What does this award mean to you?

It means a lot. In the work that we do there’s often not a lot of recognition. To have something like that was overwhelming to me and it really means a lot. Like I said I didn’t even know that I’d been nominated, my boss put me forward and then he said that I HAD to attend the awards dinner which I thought was a bit weird but I went along and didn’t think anything of it. So yes, it means a lot and it was a wonderful surprise.


What inspired you to work in health promotion?

I’m a mental health nurse by trade and I found the shift work really hard. I had worked at Odyssey House and detox facilities so I had an interest in addictions and then this came job up and I went for it. That was two years ago and everything I’ve learned has been through on-the-job training.


You mentioned that you have a 50/50 split between case work and health promotion. How does that work for you?

It can be difficult to keep track of sometimes but its complementary – any presentations that I do are really supported by the real-life stories. It’s really obvious that the most impactful conversations are those that have real people’s stories woven in.


What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the sector?

Lack of knowledge of our sector by aligned services and other sectors. It’s a battle to get into some places to do presentations. For example, when we approach a new organisation about coming to present on gambling harm prevention, you often really have to convince them that it’s relevant. Some places are pretty good – we send posters to GPs, some will put them up and some won’t. They don’t seem to see gambling addiction as a health problem in some places. When you do get out and finally talk to those people and drop stats on them you blow their minds. Once people have the awareness, they are more open. Face to face is really important, you have to turn up in person to have the conversation. It’s the same with marae – you won’t get anywhere without relationships.  


What are the most exciting opportunities for change in gambling harm prevention?

There is SO much room for change. I fully believe in a strengths-based model for making those changes. As I said before, one of the biggest things that affect people and that people listen to are the real-life stories. I’m doing a community radio show which is a great way to get those stories out there. It’s call ‘Hedge Your Bets’ and I interview people (it’s anonymous) and we’ve had amazing feedback about the impact of those personal stories to listeners. The show has also been an important way to access Māori and Pacific communities and Plains FM who run the show have been a big supporter in terms of getting us access to advertising on Māori and Pacific shows.


That’s so cool!

It’s been so amazing, the first show was a mini version of my usual presentation – like a quick overview of the stats, what we look for, how we can work with people etc. Other shows have been on things like multi-venue exclusions, the choice not chance website, and this week is Cup Week in Christchurch so we’ve done a show focussed on that. We run the show on the radio and then it goes on the Plains FM website as a downloadable podcast so people can use it as a resource whenever they want. I’m actually going to be presenting at the International Gambling Conference in Auckland in February 2018 on the show.


Congratulations, that’s such an innovative project. You seem really energised about your work?

If I’m not passionate about what I do why would anyone else be?


What is your advice to aspiring practitioners looking to work in health promotion?

Be enthusiastic! Even if you’re not feeling it, fake it until you make it. All my presentations are interactive, it’s never me standing up and dictating. I’m all about getting others involved, finding out what they know and how we can learn from each other. It’s about finding out what your audience wants to know and finding the stories to help them understand where you’re coming from and how we can work together.


Laura’s podcast ‘Hedge Your Bets’ is available for free download from the Plains FM website here.


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