Van grew up in London after moving from Vietnam to the UK when she was six years old. “I see myself as a Lambeth girl. With the experience of displacement as a refugee, I guess my affinity for nature, comes via food, because it’s one of the ways to engage with our culture, to show affection and making more of what you’ve got by cooking. There are a lot of stories passed on about the benefits of plants as my father’s family come from an herbal medicine background. I approach gardening through textures and colour. I love seeing the interplay between light and movement and how it’s so temporal.”
Whilst completing a City & Guilds Level 2 in Horticulture and L1 Garden Design course at Capel Manor College, Van began volunteering at Thrive Battersea and then decided to embark on a two-year Diploma in Social & Therapeutic Horticulture. Van applied for a John Weightman Bursary which provides generous funding for three students a year for three years. She says being awarded a bursary was a great honour, “I was very pleased to get the award and it was a great instigator because I was considering returning to education to study a textiles related course. But being awarded the bursary helped me focus and I became more committed whilst continuing to nurture my textiles interest through working with horticulture. It helped pull everything together and I’ve developed a much deeper connection with Social & Therapeutic Horticulture as a result.”
...being awarded the bursary helped me focus and I became more committed. It helped pull everything together and I’ve got a much deeper connection with STH as a result.”
Van feels the training provided by modules in the first year has refined her analytical and organisational skills to tailor a client centred approach using STH principles. Van has developed a broader understanding of the client’s journey in STH and been able to assume the responsibilities of her role with minimum staff support as she feels trained how to plan and run safe sessions independently. This year van has enjoyed learning more about reflective practice and the social environment in relation to STH practice, “I now feel more able to produce a maintenance plan for a garden and develop an STH programme from it in relation to project aims and outcomes. Context is everything and I feel that studying for the Diploma has helped me gain more awareness of the contextual and nuanced nature of STH practice. I’ve developed a more adaptive approach so that I can plan activities to support different client groups in a range of settings. The course has given me more self-confidence to practice independently.”
Currently running two general therapeutic sessions at Battersea with groups of client gardeners with different needs and of mixed abilities, Van admits working and studying can be a bit of a juggling act; “You need to be highly organised and methodical as a person and need to enjoy writing for the assignments and reflective journals. It’s like a journey every time I write, and I still use my interest in language and love of textures as a resource. We’re now working on the Rationale for Practice unit and need to create a project report that brings together different elements we’ve learned so far, like programme development, activity & qualities analysis to bring out meaningful occupation. It’s an opportunity to present our understanding and skills learnt on the Diploma. I’ve chosen to report on a research project that addresses mental health amongst the student population because it is a growing concern and I can relate to this, in terms of stress and displacement in times of transition.”
With the Diploma ending in June, Van admits that the time has flown by, but is excited by the possibilities in the future; “I love the Spring and getting out into the garden to explore new activities. The real basis for me is to create a sense of security and I hope to empower clients bit by bit. The Diploma has made me feel more confident in a quiet way. It’s very important to be objective, something you think is chatter and quite mundane has value. I’m analytical as a person, but I think you need to be quite even tempered and be prepared to be able to pivot and be flexible because every day is quite different.”
We wish Van all the best for her burgeoning career in STH!