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Housing Dundee’s Elderly Chinese

Updated: Aug 7, 2023


Plaque at the entrance to Pine Court, Logie Gardens


Dundee’s Chinese population began to develop in the 1960s. The first Chinese restaurant in the city opened in 1961 – the Bamboo Chinese Restaurant at 39 Reform St. Its success meant that others soon followed, including the Hong Kong restaurant in Seagate and the Oriental Garden in Cowgate. Slowly the number of resident Chinese in the city grew and in 1984 the Dundee Chinese Association was formed, led initially by Mr Peter Lee & Mr Henry Tsang. Five years later, Dundee District Council appointed its first full-time Chinese interpreter, Mr Thong V Lam, who would also go on to become a leading figure in the Dundee Chinese Association.


The Association helped to raise public awareness of the city’s growing Chinese population, not least through organising an annual Chinese New Year celebration event, held initially in the Angus Hotel and usually featuring a spectacular dragon dance. These events were often attended by officials from the Chinese Embassy in London and occasionally from China itself.



Lord Provost John Letford attends the Chinese New Year celebrations at the Apex Hotel organised by Dundee Chinese Association, 7 February 2011 (photo by Kris Miller, by kind permission of DC Thomson & Co Ltd).


However, as the Chinese community grew in size, some significant problems emerged. The traditional Chinese family was an extended one, with several generations living in the one home. Elderly people were traditionally venerated by the community for their wisdom and experience. The situation was very different for those Chinese trying to make a living in Scotland. Young people who came here for work often had to move around to find jobs and were unable to afford large enough homes to accommodate their parents or grandparents. The family unit was thus broken up, with older people having to live by themselves. Many of Dundee’s Chinese residents came from Hong Kong and few could speak English – indeed many had no formal education at all, compulsory education only having been introduced there relatively recently.


In his role as interpreter, Thong V Lam found that most elderly Chinese looking for housing asked to live in Hilltown, since they knew of other Chinese people already living there. Writing in 1991, Lam wrote: “The feelings of isolation, loneliness and elderly Chinese are undeniable… and the Dundee Chinese Community had to do something and do it promptly if it wanted to prevent the further mental and physical deterioration of its elderly folk.”


In 1989, a series of meetings began with members of the District Council’s Housing Department, Tayside Regional Council’s Equal Opportunities Unit and the Tayside Asian Action Group. Lam prepared a report for them which identified the scale of the problem. It noted that elderly Chinese residents were unable to access council services or claim their benefits, found it very difficult to get work and could not be helped by their children who (having been raised in Britain) were unable translate for them.In introducing Lam’s report, Peter Lee (as Chair of Dundee Chinese Association) noted that “elderly folk live in isolation and infinite boredom.”



Cover of the Dundee Chinese Association’s Progress Report, 1991 (courtesy of Dundee Central Library Local History Centre, Leisure and Culture Dundee)

The idea of a sheltered housing project arose from these meetings, with Scottish Homes and Cleghorn Housing Association agreeing to take the idea forward. A plot of land was purchased on Glenagnes Roadand work began on building 16 flats in a four-storey building with communal facilities and a warden on the ground floor, surrounded by a further 16 family homes.This was the first project of its kind in Scotland and quickly sparked interest from other parts of the country. The new accommodation (named Pine Court) finally opened in 1994, with 12 of the 16 flats occupied by elderly Chinese and the other four by Scottish tenants.


Now managed by the Home Group, Pine Court continues to serve the needs of Dundee’s elderly Chinese and although newer tenants have come from different backgrounds, it still has a majority Chinese community today.



Celebrations for the 20th anniversary of Pine Court in 2014, with 91-year-old Mrs Wong, who had lived there since it opened (photo courtesy of Fraser Macpherson)



Written by Matthew Jarron, University of Dundee Museums



Sources:


Dundee Chinese Association, Progress Report – Sheltered Housing Project, 1991 (Local History Centre, Dundee Central Library)

Dundee Courier, various issues including 7/10/1994, 12/10/1994, 12/19/1996

Fraser Macpherson, ‘Happy Birthday Pine Court’ blog at https://frasermacpherson.wordpress.com/2014/10/07/happy-birthday-pine-court/


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