A new program is engaging people vulnerable to social isolation in free community evening activities as an alternative to gambling venues.
Sebastopol Library Community Hub is opening its doors until 10pm on Thursdays as part of the Libraries After Dark program.
Up to 250 people have attended the late night library sessions each month since it started in November.
This program offers another place to go at night, that could be a place to just have a cup of tea.Jenny Fink, Ballarat Libraries
Ballarat Libraries executive manager learning and community hubs Jenny Fink said 100 people attended one session in the lead up to Christmas.
"We have had all sorts of activities like open mic sessions, trivia quizzes, craft sessions, films and guest speakers, but some people come into the library to study or have some quiet time away from home," she said.
"I think people are really grateful there is somewhere to go."
The Victorian government announced $64,000 would be provided to Sebastopol Library to run the Libraries After Dark program for two years in September.
At the time, Buninyong MP Michaela Settle said the program was a preventative model to address gambling in the context of mental health issues.
"It is important we see gambling in a mental health light and see it as an addiction like any other," she told The Courier.
Ms Fink said the role of libraries was expanding to play a bigger part in providing opportunities for social connection and creating a safe and welcoming space for all members of the community.
"This program offers another place to go at night, that could be a place to just have a cup of tea," she said.
"We have people getting out of the house at night to a place where there are other people and that is fantastic."
"If this program continues to be successful it could be a model for an expansion to other libraries. It is a great social connector program."
The Sebastopol Bowling Club, one of Ballarat's biggest gambling venues, is just 350 metres from the Sebastopol Library.
Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation data released last week shows electronic gaming machines took in $2.53 million at the Sebastopol Bowling Club from July to December in 2019.
This is a decrease from $2.64 million in the same period in 2018, but an increase from $2.36 million for the same period in 2017.
Sebastopol Bowling Club is one of two pokies venues in Ballarat that has experienced a decrease in pokies expenditure.
Expenditure on electronic gaming machines has dropped at North Ballarat Sports Club since 2017 from $2.63 million from July to December in that year to $2.52 million for the same period in 2019.
Zagame's Ballarat Hotel took in the most amount of money from the pokies, $6.82 million, in this same period compared to any other venue in Ballarat.
Data shows $152,778 is spent on the pokies per day in the City of Ballarat.
Upcoming sessions at the Sebastopol's Libraries After Dark program include an author talk on January 30, a film night on February 6 and a technology session on February 20 that includes the chance to try virtual reality goggles.
You can pick up a booklet at Sebastopol Library to see the full program of evening events, visit Ballarat Libraries on Eventbrite or show up to a Libraries After Dark session between 5pm and 10pm on a Thursday.
If you or someone you know needs gambling support, contact Gambler's Help on 1800 858 858.
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