Where are they now? Colin Higgins (BSc Chemistry 1993)

Colin HigginsFor our latest profile we spoke to Chemistry alumnus Colin Higgins about his time at Sheffield, studying and socialising in the early nineties, how he went on to end up sleeping under the stars with lemurs, and how he is fighting back against a devastating condition to regain his independence.

What did you study at Sheffield?

I studied Chemistry. I liked the idea of a subject where discoveries were still being made.

What attracted you to study at Sheffield in particular?

Coming from Southend in Essex, it felt far enough from home to make my own life, while still near enough to get back if I needed to or wanted to. It looked like a modern and friendly city.

And what was your first impression arriving in Sheffield?

Exciting and always something to do.

What were some of your favourite things to do in the city?

Going to see bands at the Student Union and the Leadmill. I probably saw about two bands a week so definitely can’t remember them all but Pulp, Blur, Slowdive, Carter USM, Spiritualized, Popguns, Bob Mould, Pop Will Eat Itself, and Radiohead definitely stick in my mind. I also visited a good number of Yorkshire football grounds to watch Southend United.

What are your best memories of your time here?

I was an active member of Student Reception, who helped promote the University. I met some great people and built up my skills for talking to large groups of people.

I also volunteered for the 1991 World Student Games in Sheffield, which was a fun and exciting time. I was then invited to volunteer at the next Student Games in Buffalo, New York, a once in a lifetime chance.

Is there anything you particularly miss about Sheffield?

Just bumping into friends in the street or at the Union, and going for a drink or a game of pool. Long before mobile phones!

Colin wish some of his friends from Sheffield Colin wish some of his friends from Sheffield Colin wish some of his friends from Sheffield

What did you do after graduation?

I did a Postgraduate Diploma in European Business Management, run by Bournemouth University with various European partners, including 9 months studying in Poitiers, France. This was a very mixed nationality course and I ended up making lots of good friends across Europe with whom I am still in touch.

After working in the City of London for some years, in 2002 the travel bug got me again, and I went off to rural Madagascar for a wildlife expedition, 3 months of sleeping under the stars and studying lemurs, birds, lizards and bats. An absolute revelation!

When I got back to the UK, I decided to transfer to the wildlife conservation sector. I had a very worthwhile and happy time working for the Bat Conservation Trust, the London Wildlife Trust, iSpot and the RSPB.

Colin in the Genie Standing WheelchairIn 2010 you were diagnosed with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis; how has this impacted your life?

In 2010, out of the blue, I started to develop some problems walking. This was diagnosed as Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis, a degenerative neurological condition. In 2014, I started to use a wheelchair full-time and had to give up work.

Earlier this year you successfully raised funds to purchase a special standing wheelchair – what impact will this have on your life?

I heard about the Genie Standing Wheelchair and decided to have a trial. This fantastic bit of equipment works like a normal powerchair but it will also change to a standing position, letting me stand to my full 6ft 3in and reducing the pressure on my body.

My wife, Nancy, and I fundraised to buy this for me through crowdfunding, where I shared my story with friends asking for contributions towards the chair, and the friends shared it with their friends. It’s amazing how generous people can be, including my old Sheffield mates.

What are your current goals, and where would you like to go next?

I try to keep as active as possible, going to the gym twice a week. I’ve also started writing short stories.

Do you still feel a part of the University; do you ever make it back to Sheffield?

Definitely, a lovely city and an important time in my life.

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

Keep your options open, I’ve loved the wide variety of things I’ve done and places I’ve been.

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