The pretty seaside town of Dunoon is enjoying a renaissance. The town’s motto ‘Forward’ seems apt given the ongoing transformation of its waterfront and the iconic Queen’s Hall. It could also serve as a metaphor for the betting industry in Scotland, now facing the prospect of significant shop closures and job losses, but determined to weather the storm. And there are plenty of those in Dunoon.
I’m in town to meet the team at Ladbrokes. They don’t know it, but they’ve been voted ABB Scotland’s Community Betting Shop of the Year for their remarkable fund-raising efforts in support of local charities, sports groups and health facilities.
The small shop, on Moir Street, is surprisingly busy for 11am, with punters queuing to bet on the World Cup while others study the form of the day’s horse runners. I tell shop manager Lucy Richmond I’m in town to interview her and her colleagues for an article, but the main purpose of my visit is to present the staff with their award. Lucy’s boss, Caroline Guchine, arrives with coffee for the team. We’ve met before and the atmosphere is warm and welcoming, just as it was when I first visited the shop a few weeks earlier.
I wonder if perhaps the hospitality is staged because they knew I was coming. But regular customer Lorna Anderson assures me there is nothing unusual about the warm welcome. “I would describe it as a friendly social meeting-point, an environment where we all look out for each other,” she says. “They’ve got customers who have been coming into the shop for years, they know their habits and if the staff don’t see them, particularly if they’re used to them coming in every day, they’ll make enquiries to make sure they’re alright. They really care.”
When I finally put the team out of their misery and tell them they’ve won the award, their response is one of genuine surprise and utter delight. There are a few tears.
“I’m supposed to be retiring this year and I’m going out with a bang. I’m totally overwhelmed. I just can’t believe it, it’s fabulous,” says Lucy.
Between them, Lucy and Caroline have more than 70 years of service to Ladbrokes. For Lucy, who retires after 44 years, the win is especially poignant.
She says: “I’ve worked in this shop since I was 18 and I’ve been brought up with a lot of our customers. We know everyone so well and everyone knows us so well. Our customers will be delighted for us.”
Over the past two decades, the team have raised in excess of £50,000 for charity through race nights, coffee mornings, sponsored walks and raffles.
Caroline is quick to pay tribute to her customers. “We couldn’t do it without our customers, they’re so generous. It’s a great community.”
She sees the shop as a gathering- place for the community: “We know the majority of our customers and it’s a meeting place for people. We make them feel special, make them feel comfortable when they come in. Some have lost their partners, wives or husbands. They’re not lonely because they can come to see us and that’s what makes this job so special.”
As an industry, betting shops contribute around £235m in Scotland through taxes, rent, rates and salary costs but it’s impossible to put a value on the difference it makes to some just to have a friendly face to chat to.
The prospect of shop closures and job losses is an obvious concern for the team following the UK government’s decision to slash stakes on gaming machines in betting shops. But Lucy is particularly concerned about the impact on customers. “I think it would be dreadful if we weren’t here because a lot of customers depend on us.” Caroline adds: “We really care for our customers, we have systems in place to protect people, we know the majority of our customers, we know what they’re going to spend.”
Those personal connections are at risk and smaller communities will feel the effect more acutely, warns Caroline. “I feel very sad because I don’t see many smaller independent shops surviving. It’s going to be really hard for them and for their customers. It will be especially hard for those in outlying areas.” Undeterred, she vows to “keep doing what we’re doing.”
In the past year, the team has raised £5,000 for good causes, including the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow, and there are more fund-raising efforts in the pipeline. Like the town, this award-winning team is determined to move forward.
Congratulations to William Hill Johnstone on securing second place and Scotbet Selkirk on third place.
Donald Morrison, Scottish media & public affairs, ABB Scotland