Child refugee who slept rough in Finsbury Park for two years thanks charities and Arsenal for changing his life
PUBLISHED: 12:51 31 October 2017 | UPDATED: 16:22 31 October 2017
An Arsenal fan who spent two years sleeping rough in Finsbury Park after fleeing civil war as a child soldier has found a home and a job – and is on the way to realising his dream.
Victor Macauley was six when he was abducted from his home, drugged and trained to kill during the war in Sierra Leone.
After escaping, he arrived in England in 2010 aged 15, traumatised and alone. He spent his nights sleeping on a bench by the children’s play area in Finsbury Park until charities New Horizon’s Youth Centre and Shelter stepped in.
Now he’s turned things around and says 2017 is the “only year he has ever had happiness”. He’s settled in a home and has finally been granted asylum. He’s also working in Marks and Spencer and on his way to becoming an accountant – his dream job.
“When I came to this country it was tough,” he told the Gazette. “The culture was different and I wasn’t integrated into society.
“I spent the first two years homeless with no family or friends. It scarred me for life. You just don’t care – you just want to find somewhere to sleep. It was scary. You have people doing all sorts of things to you like taking your trainers. You don’t know what’s going to happen.
“I once put my name on a bench in the park using a nail, on April 12, 2011. Every time I want to reconnect myself to where I was and where I am now, I go and sit there and look at my life. It was really hard – I used to beg in the street.
“I wasn’t shy about it, I was in a situation where I had to do it and wanted to do it. Begging is not a crime if you have got to do it to survive.”
Victor was terrified of being sent home, and to this day finds it hard to talk about what he went through. But he was given a solicitor who helped him in his three-year battle for asylum that ended in January.
Along the way he was also referred to Finsbury Park charity Freedom from Torture for PTSD therapy, and he still plays football every week with other survivors at the sessions run by Arsenal in the Community.
“Arsenal changed my life by giving me loads of opportunities and helping reactivate my dreams,” he said. “The staff know and respect me and never discriminate or judge me or say anything bad about me.”
As well as giving him the opportunity to play with the first team and his idol Thierry Henry, Victor completed a photography course run by the Arsenal charity, leading club snapper Stuart MacFarlane to take Victor under his wing. He’s now taken photos on matchdays and at first team training sessions.
“They ended up using some of my pictures in the matchday programme,” he said. “It was the best moment of my life.
“I’m 23 now and this is the only year I have ever had happiness in my life. But if I didn’t have help from Shelter I wouldn’t be in the position I am.”
Victor is hoping his story can inspire others who find themselves in the situation he was in seven years ago.
“If this story can change one person’s life in that situation I will be pleased,” he said. “Because it’s not the place to be.”
Read more about the fantastic work done by Freedom from Torture and Arsenal here.
Anyone struggling with bad housing and homelessness can contact Shelter for free advice on 0344 515 1540, or drop into the advice centre in Tyssen Street, Hackney.