By Ben Randall-Smith 

My wife Andrea and I hosted language school kids in Hastings for 15 years (2003 to 2018). We were renting a six-bedroom house with, during the latter years, three young children of our own. But often we accommodated six guests at a time and on one occasion we actually crammed 14 in. 

For a flat rate of between £12 and £15 per child per night we would provide beds plus three meals most days – breakfast, a packed lunch and evening dinner. We would sometimes have three separate sittings at dinner: at 6pm and again at 7pm for our guests, then at 8 for ourselves. We wouldn’t do their laundry, but of course at the end of each stay there would be complete laundering of sheets, towels etc.

CREDIT: Valerie Saveleva

In summer – from Easter through to September – the kids were predominantly German and Spanish between the ages of 12 and 15. Most would stay for five days, some for up to two weeks. They would arrive in a coach with one or more teachers; the coach driver would stay in Hastings all week to ferry them around – to London, to Brighton, to Battle, to Bodiam Castle etc. Local evening activities would be crazy golf, the arcades, discos etc. Going to London was the big thrill for everyone, though.

It was quite an industry in the town and a good way to use big, cheap-to-rent houses. The kids were almost all what I would call middle-class with plenty of money to spend. I remember the Germans (boys at least) eating the most food, the French being the rudest, the Spanish and Italians most fun.

In winter months we would get longer stay students, mostly for three months or more, and mostly from Guatemala.

It was fun, but hard work. We had a few disasters like the 14-year-old who came with a stash of £50 notes, got unbelievably drunk, and came home to vomit the whole way up our stairs at 1 in the morning (I threw him out of our house and the language school had to come and pick him up at 3). But we have many fond memories. Our first ever guest, Maria from Spain, came back many years later to stay as a student leader. 

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