Uncle Douglas holds a picture of one of the first students to live with him, Rosemary, and her son, sent from Beijing.
97 year old Douglas Higgins has been offering a homestay for Chinese students for the past 12 years, since his wife Eileen passed away. Douglas has had an incredibly colourful life; during the 1930s he cycled around Britain, travelling from Sheffield to the South Coast and back again, he served in the RAF during the Second World War, has worked as an art teacher and for a design company, and visited Singapore and Hong Kong when he was in his eighties. A devout Christian, he worked as a pastor for many years and preached in the Chinese Christian Church, where his sermons were translated to Mandarin.
The first student that stayed with Uncle Douglas, as he is fondly known, was taking an English refresher course and needed somewhere to stay for one month. Her cousin was the interpreter at the church and approached Douglas with the idea. ‘Whatever will people say, me taking in a Chinese girl’, Douglas recounts. He told me how a phrase from the scriptures came to him ‘Be not forgetful to entertain strangers’; his decision was made.
Since the first student in 2000, Douglas has had some fourteen Chinese young people stay with him for various lengths of time. Fully independent, Douglas cares for himself and the students have their own room and freedom to come and go as they please. Douglas’ daughter, Dorothy, visits regularly, and he receives regular post and photographs from the past students who have lived with him.
Currently, student Qingqing and her friend Linda are staying with Uncle Douglas and I have been visiting them in their home, photographing their lives and learning all about Douglas’ incredible history. I have also visited the Chinese Christian Church with Qingqing, who herself attended a house church in Tianjin as an undergraduate in China (a common way of practicing Christianity in the officially atheist country). For Qingqing, living with Uncle Douglas offers a valuable opportunity to practice English in addition to fostering her religion.