Amanda is a Course Leader and Subject Coordinator in the field of Design. For World Mental Health Day she shares her own journey and her key takeaways from Bath Spa’s Mental Health First Aid training.
Working in industry
I’ve always had a passion for textile design and particularly for interiors. I’ve had a very varied career in the textiles and interior design sector, both with major international companies and as an independent designer-maker, consultant and project manager.
I’ve worked with the National Trust, Designers Guild, the Harrods Christmas Department (it’s actually called Fifth Floor Merchandising but that doesn’t sound as exciting!) and with magazines showing people how to make things and develop ideas.
Going into teaching
I kind of fell into teaching. A friend approached me about going into her school to expand on what they were offering. I went in and talked about working as a designer and then I was asked to go back more regularly as the students were fascinated with the topics I could talk about. I found that I really enjoyed it and eventually it evolved into working full time in further and higher education.
Working at Bath Spa
I joined Bath Spa about 14 years ago and I’m now the Subject Coordinator for the School of Design. My role covers Interior Design, Fashion, and Textile Design for Fashion and Interiors.
I’m also the Course Leader for BA (Hons) Textile Design for Fashion and Interiors. I teach mainly final year students and help them prepare to graduate. We work on getting their portfolios together and give them opportunities to engage with industry. This means that the briefs students get are influenced by industry – making them current and on trend. It also gives students the opportunity to work with potential employers and hopefully helps them move seamlessly into their professional careers.
Becoming a Mental Health First Aider
In 2020 and 2021, 65 Bath Spa staff undertook Mental Health First Aider training. Mental Health First Aiders act as a first point of contact and offer an informal and confidential chat for employees who are experiencing a mental health issue.
It's a fascinating course. It gave me a good start in knowing what to do as a first point of contact for someone who is experiencing mental ill health. They give you words and phrases, and the confidence in your own ability to deal with whatever is presented to you. This, combined with my life experiences, means I now feel more prepared to offer support to someone and know how best to respond.
Listening non-judgmentally is a key thing you learn about on the course. Often you don’t really know how you feel until you say it out loud so it's important to give the person time to organise their thoughts and then be there to point them in the right direction for further support.
Sometimes you can be nervous to say anything that could be misconstrued but I think the course gives you the confidence to open up conversations around mental health. It's about reducing the stigma that is associated with mental health issues and normalising conversations around mental health, so one way I can help others and raise awareness is by talking about my journey.
Coping with grief
I lost my daughter to cancer. We were, and remain, devastated. But creating a garden in memory of Harriet has helped me find respite from my grief and start my journey to recovery.
In many ways the garden has helped my mental health because I can just get out and physically do something. Other people run or work out, but for me, there’s no anticipation in that. If I plant something and I’m physically worn out, I know that in a few months time it’s going to give me the gift of blooms or lovely textures, and I think that’s why I particularly like gardening. I also like the fact that it’s new life. Plants can look like they're totally dead and then they surprise you with little sprouts and it’s very exciting to see them growing again.
I've opened my garden up to the public through the National Garden Scheme and lots of people have come to visit and love to talk about the garden. It also keeps my daughter's memory alive as it's a reason to talk about her and share our memories with others.
Other people who have lost children or loved ones will come to me and say it's a great idea and that they would never have thought of doing something like that. Some say they don't like gardening but I like doing this, and I tell them they could do the equivalent; it doesn’t have to be a garden.
"There’s absolutely no way that you can rectify the situation but what you can do is give yourself an interest that is positive."
Turning my skills to garden design
People always say how lovely the garden is and how much I must love gardening. Actually, I don’t. I love designing and I don’t mind gardening, but I’m not a gardener, I am a designer. To me the garden is a design.
I tackled the garden as I would any design project. That means that lots of plants don’t work because I don’t know an awful lot about plants, but I just move things around. I’m very interested in the structure, the colour, the texture and then everything else falls into place. I think you can go into gardening in many different ways. You find what appeals to you and then you do it to fit in with your ideas.
You can say I want flowers in these months so I’ll work on that. Or I sit here so I want this area to look nice at this time of year. Treat it as if you’re designing a room. You'd design your bedroom or sitting room and wouldn’t worry too much, you’d just choose what you like.
Harriet was into English, that was her degree, and she loved writing. We had lots of pieces of her writing, and of course, when you’re only 30 with no children you're heavily into travel and enjoying life. She went off visiting lots of places and wrote about them which I then used to inspire different parts of the garden. Her writing wasn’t necessarily about gardens or landscape but I took ideas from it. I have a Scandinavian, Moroccan, Mediterranean, Sri Lankan and English area.
Three things you should know about me…
I get asked to run Christmas workshops a lot!
Because I worked for Harrods for Christmas I’m always asked to run Christmas workshops. I show people how to make swags, wreaths and lots of gorgeous Christmas decorations. I’ve been pruning a lot of the vines in the garden which we’ll use to make organic wreaths.
I still work on my own projects at home
I’m working on a new idea using a machine called an embellisher. I’m enjoying pushing that to its limit and seeing what it can do. I’m making some Chanel-type fabrics at the moment by combining old techniques and processes and working out how to influence those using the embellisher. I’ll make some interior decorations with them to see if they work. I’ll then approach a museum to see if they would like them for a show.
My idea for a listening garden
I have a lot of people visit from a Hospice. I’ve suggested to them an idea for a listening garden. People could come and walk the garden with someone and have a chat. The garden could prompt a conversation around things they like to do in the garden or something a loved one liked. I think it’s nice if you have a subject to start the conversation. If people are a bit nervous about talking to someone about how they’re feeling, then this could be the first step to that.