Crouch Joy Varney-Blackburn Award (launched at OTASA Congress 2021)

This Award was created by the Crouch Bursary Fund to celebrate the life of an influential occupational therapist in the field of psychiatry and mental health.  It is awarded to the best oral presentation related to this field, at the bi-annual congress of the Occupational Therapy Association of South Africa (OTASA).  Audience members contribute to rating eligible presentations using an innovative online scoring system, with the final decision moderated by the Crouch Bursary Fund board if there is a tie between candidates.

The winner receives a monetary prize and a certificate from the Crouch Bursary Fund.  At the discretion of the Board, a runner-up may be awarded a smaller prize as well as a certificate.

Joy and Rose 2011

Joy Varney-Blackburn and Rosemary Crouch in 2011

A tribute to the late Joy Varney-Blackburn

Joy Varney-Blackburn (nee du Toit) played a very special role in the profession of occupational therapy and particularly in the field of mental handicap /intellectual disability. She started her career as an occupational therapist at Tara hospital in Johannesburg and later worked for a lengthy period as senior occupational therapy consultant and head of department in the Life Care group of psychiatric hospitals. 

Joy trained at the Pretoria College of Occupational Therapy which later became known as the Vona du Toit College. She was sponsored by Life Care to train in the techniques of Sensory Integration in the USA and on her return she pioneered the use of this treatment technique in South Africa for the treatment of mentally handicapped children with self -injurious behaviour. Her unique work was published in the first 3 editions of “Occupational Therapy in Psychiatry and Mental Health” edited by Crouch and Alers. Life Care also sponsored her to present papers at the congresses of the World Federation of Occupational Therapy which were held in Hamburg and Hong Kong. 

Joy was an original member of the POTS Interest Group and a pioneer member of the Crouch Trust, predecessor to the Crouch Bursary Fund.  She contributed greatly to the professional association for occupational therapy now known as OTASA, serving as its president of OTASA from 1998 to 2001. She was also a master potter in her spare time and – typical for a community-minded occupational therapist – started an industry for homeless people, who fashioned the famous ‘creature’ pots loved by many. Strongly family oriented, Joy married her second husband Malcolm Blackburn after her first husband Keith Varney passed away. Her three children include a daughter and two sons.

She died in 2011 and through the Award in her name the Crouch Bursary Fund will honour her legacy and keep her memory alive. 

Joy Blackburn

Joy Varney-Blackburn, inspirational occupational therapist

Criteria for the Crouch Joy Varney-Blackburn Award
  • Only ORAL presentations are eligible – not posters, webinars or workshops
  • Student presentations are not eligible as the OTASA Congress offers a separate award for students
  • The research presented must relate to occupational therapy in psychiatry and mental health, with a focus on identified user groups (including those with intellectual disability)
  • The research must not have as its MAIN focus more generic issues like resilience, wellness, leisure or spirituality (which crosscut many fields of occupational therapy practice)
  • The research must have taken place partly or fully in South Africa

To avoid conflicts of interest, serving members of the Crouch Bursary Fund board are not eligible for the Award. Where a board member has been involved in the research presented (for instance, in the capacity of supervisor or co-author) but does not present it, the presenter is eligible.  Crouch Bursary Fund bursary recipients are also eligible.

2021 winners of the Crouch Joy Varney-Blackburn Award

The Crouch Bursary Fund is delighted to have inaugurated the above Award at OTASA’s 2021 Congress, and to have been able to include a runner-up award thanks to a donation from Joy’s son in memory of his late mother.

Megan Brink (cropped)
2021 Winner: Megan Brink
I feel honoured to have won the Crouch Joy Varney-Blackburn Award and I would like to extend my gratitude for this amazing opportunity. Occupational Therapy in the field of Psychiatry and Mental Health has always been a big passion of mine and I hope to continue to grow my knowledge and contribute to this valuable field. I would like to acknowledge Joachim Jacobs who has recently passed. My study was based off data that he and Prof Lisa Wegner had previously collected. He assisted me throughout the process of my data analysis and for that I will forever be grateful. May his beautiful soul always be remembered.
photo Gina Rencken (002) (cropped)
2021 Runner-up: Gina Rencken
I am so deeply touched and honoured to have been awarded the runner up prize at the OTASA congress for my presentation on maternal mental health in KZN. This is part of my PhD work, and the outcomes are eye-opening. We have many vulnerable mother-infant pairs in our country, and I hope that this work will contribute toward changing the landscape for them, and bringing healing.