Forty-eight year-old Jeff Scott lives in Argyle Community Housing, Ainslie Village, in the ACT. He has been a resident of social housing for 15 months.
From being the CEO of a company on the verge of multi-million dollar international success to relying on social housing and running a bike shop in Ainslie, the last decade or so has seen Jeff Scott’s life undergo catastrophic upheaval.
In a former life, Jeff and his company found themselves competing against one of New Zealand’s largest kitchenware distributors around the globe, particularly Asia. To cut a long story short, the ‘big guys’ won, leaving Jeff with a costly and lengthy patent and intellectual property dispute. Along with it, his partnership disintegrated and then, the coup de grace if you will, he contracted a serious illness, which pushed him to the brink of suicide.
“I had an ulcer on my lower right leg for nine months,” he says. “There was a vein behind my right knee that was reduced to 30 percent circulation. I had to have a couple of veins removed and then the ulcer closed naturally by itself because the circulation pressure had gone.”
The long months of post-surgical complications ushered in a very dark period for someone usually so energetic and active. “It was the worst window of my life,” he says without hesitation. “The bandages had to get changed every two or three days because it was weeping – dramatically sometimes. I was in clinics every two or three days including emergency rooms and all sorts of stuff. I was in a dark, cold, lonely world.”
Jeff fought a debilitating bout of depression. Describing it as “like living in a cave”, he paints a decidedly dark picture of his experience with the so-called black dog. “It’s windy and rainy outside and you don’t wanna leave the cave,” he explains. “Even though it’s so cold, you don’t wanna leave that cave and you can’t hear anyone or see anyone. That’s the sort of depression I had.”
The cycle stopped when some true friends saw the writing on the wall and intervened. “A couple of friends stepped up to the plate to call me and took me to the doctor. The ulcer itself was five years ago but the scar’s still there and it reminds me of where I was and how I’ve picked myself up off the canvas.”
Jeff recognises the important role that social housing has played in his mental and physical recovery. “I knew I needed a fresh start,” he says. “And Melbourne wasn’t really moving me forward as far as my own personal objectives were concerned.”
I’m glad I’m in social housing because I’ve found my feet and my purpose in Canberra.
“I’m glad I’m in social housing because I’ve found my feet and my purpose in Canberra. Since I’ve moved here, I’ve started to run with certain projects and other initiatives, which has been really rewarding. I think, basically, if you’ve got your mind set on your own objectives and you’ve built those barriers and boundaries, you will find yourself in a better place.”
One of the projects Jeff is talking about is his Cycle Recycle Workshop at Argyle Community Housing’s Ainslie Village. Established by Jeff in 2016, the workshop sees him recondition old bikes, getting them back into working order and then selling them for genuinely affordable prices to fellow residents.
Having made such an impact in a place like Ainslie Village – where isolation and a lack of reliable transport services are serious issues – Jeff’s work was acknowledged with an ACT Tenant Led Initiative Award in the 2017 AHI Awards For Professional Excellence in Housing.
Once you’ve had a mental health issue, the important thing is you have to address that issue directly.
Like many others who’ve successfully fought depression, Jeff’s determined to provide meaning in his life and that of others. “I want to share the journey,” he says passionately. “Once you’ve had a mental health issue, the important thing is you have to address that issue directly. I don’t want people to go where I was during those five years. That’s what I’m trying to prevent.”
After a tough few years, it’s not surprising Jeff’s unapologetically direct when we ask him what he hopes to achieve over the next 12 months.
Karma has repaid me…it’s really opened up doors for me as far as my own direction goes.
“To still be alive,” he says quite casually. “You can’t predict one day after another. Obviously, I hope nothing medically happens again. Karma has repaid me from what I’ve done so far in Canberra, and it’s really opened up doors for me as far as my own direction goes. I’m trying to keep my feet grounded because that’s the most important thing I want to do. Because, otherwise, I start losing focus and I don’t want to do that. Keeping grounded is quite important for everyone, really.”
“In the coming year,” he reflects, “I’m hoping to be more protected mentally. And also have a lot more doors opened – not only for myself but for the community; the Canberra community itself.”