Vân Dang says a fond farewell to her home of six years as she explains Why She Loves Thornton Heath.

“On July 19, 12 years ago I left Saigon for London. The customs officer at Heathrow asked if I brought ‘any fish’ in my suitcase? and saw the need to open it even though I told her: ‘I did not’. I felt like a total loser while trying to pack everything back into my suitcase. I left my job, my career, my parents, my friends, my dog, everything and people were worried I would bring fish in to the country?!

“I moved house three times and landed in Thornton Heath six years ago. It was the only house we could afford and my then four-year-old son Jake called it ‘the tatty house’. There were damp patches and fungus growing on the wall. The wind blew off a few fence panels the first week we moved in. The foxes ripped the rubbish bags the previous owner left in the garden… but I remember the happy feeling sitting in my cold, empty living room: I actually own a house in London and home is where you make it.

A few months after that I saw a group of people picking rubbish in front of the station, then an advert on a Facebook group about the next rubbish picking event at Thornton Heath Rec. I came along to that one and came along to another at Grangewood Park. If you haven’t attended a Thornton Heath Community Action Team’s action day, why not? I highly recommend it! It can change your life as it certainly changed mine. I met Andrea Perry – vice chair of THCAT for the first time at the park’s action day. Who would know years on that we would organise events, competitions, action days, mural painting, set up countless websites and start a newspaper (the one you are reading now) together. 

“I then joined the THCAT committee and met many kind people who went a long way to lend me a hand on so many things I wanted to do on community projects and on a personal level as well. Linda Watson, chair of THCAT is always there for any questions and requests to support each member of the group. David Fell- admin of the Facebook group, who is so calm and kind, dealt with countless moans I have. Gaëtane Jones- who fearlessly clears up all stickers and fly-posts along the High Street. Marley King – who I conned into doing many things including painting the footbridge that was covered with rude and racist words. Chris Milton and Barbara Benjamin who have quietly run reading groups every Monday at the refugee hostel for the last two and a half years. Pete Lawrence and Mohammed Mir who showed me that we do so many things in life but it will all be gone one day. Only kindness – the relationship between human and human stays. That inspired me to create the mural at the bus stop steps opposite the station: “KINDNESS LIVES HERE”.

“It would be a very long, endless list of beautiful memories Thornton Heath has given me. When I wanted to organise a Christmas party for the residents of the refugee hostel, Chetna Kapacee spent three precious days at the busiest time of the year, dressed up as an elf driving me around Croydon. 

“Neal Reikh- owner of the Railway Telegraph gave my hundreds of pounds and big discount on his food. His business partner later on stayed at the party himself to serve the food. Fireaway, Taperia, Palace for Life all contributed. Zeenat, Caroline, the fantastic firemen, many local councillors, Alison and SL, Daisy, Yashika, Louise and Paul from the Salvation Army… You are all amazing people who make Thornton Heath alive! I have missed out many of the names as my eyes are brimming with tears and I can’t think it through. 

“No matter where I go I will always remember Thornton Heath as a special place that I call home – a place that accepts me as I am and  where I feel I belong.”

Good Luck Vân. We will miss you!
Andrea Perry, Editor