Participants at The Apartment
Left: Louise Shanks and Ray Leckie at the Apartment, Middle: Nic Leeden, lead facilitator at the Apartment runs the Ukulele Jam, Right: Terry Watts at the Apartment

Apartment Life

When Louise Shanks first came to The Apartment in central Dunedin she had recovery, rather than romance, on her mind. The Pact Group facility offers daytime activities for people recovering from mental illness and Louise's visit followed a period in hospital. But she decided to take up a public speaking course, set up by another client, Ray Leckie, and soon found herself immersed in the world of toastmasters and table topics (short off-the-cuff speeches).

"It has improved my self-esteem, I think definitely because I feel like if I can rub shoulders with these toastmasters division governors, area governors, then I can't be all that bad as a person, if I can cope with these new challenges and new people."

And if the public speaking has changed her outlook, it’s also brought a huge change to her personal life as a romance developed between her and Ray. And in the end it was she who popped the question. I said something along the lines of "We've got a toastmasters competition and I only have four words in it: 'Will you marry me?' And he said, yes!"

The Apartment's lead facilitator, Nic Leeden, says the aim of the centre is to provide social inclusion and to promote client recoveries. He says there are numerous courses on offer and clients are also encouraged to initiate their own activities and help cook lunches. "So we're standing back more and more and letting these guys do their stuff and I think it’s starting to work, so that's cool. Trying to give them back a bit of self-worth, you know a bit of responsibility and getting away from the institution type way of things."

Nic Leeden says he came from a long career in the music industry and this work opened his eyes to the struggles of many people who experience a mental illness. And he believes the incidence of mental illness is increasing. "I hate to say this, but it's a growth sector and I think with all the pressures of modern life and finance and all that kind of stuff, I think it will always be a growth sector; sad to say." But Nic says he's passionate about the job and glad to have found an opportunity to help.