Isaac's* Story

*Names changed to protect identities

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Back in Nigeria, I was born into a polygamous family with a dad with many wives. When he died our family splintered. I couldn’t afford to carry on going to school and I had no one to help me. 

I met a kind man who was a mechanic and he gave me a job, which was great. Shortly after, he had an accident and passed away too. His family closed the business and I had no option but to start street hawking, selling snacks and water on the streets. 

That’s where I met man who said he could help me get a job in the UK. He said he’d pay for me to travel to the UK and, when I started work, I could pay him back. He was nice. I had no other option. 

He got me a passport and said that once we got to the UK, he would give it to my employerAt the airport, he told me not to say anything. 

I was kept in a family’s house and on a farm working for almost three years, from morning until night. I would cook and clean and look after the family’s children. I was never given the money I was promised, and I was beaten. 

I managed to escape and a guy in the street helped me to call the brother of a family friend from Nigeria, that I knew was in London, and get a cab to his house. 

It was a long time after that that I found Hestia. My solicitor referred me into the National Referral Mechanism in 2018, and I was recognised as a potential victim of modern slavery. 

I met my support worker, Brendan, soon after. He changed my life. 

He’s given me confidence, and two years on, I feel like he is a father to me. He mentors me, inspires me, and has given me opportunities I never thought possible. 

There has definitely been challenges along the way but I know I’ll overcome them. I’ve struggled with my mental health and though I still hear voices now, they’re not as strong as before. I take my medication and I’m feeling good now. 

Taking part in Hestia’s Art Is Freedom workshops and trying photography has really helped.

Meeting people and doing things with others helped control my anxiety. The friends I made gave me advice on how to cope and it was a release; it stopped me thinking about what happened to me. 

A photograph captured by Isaac* for Hestia's #ArtIsFreedom exhibition

I got my Leave to Remain recently, which means I can stay in the UK for a while. The decision will be reviewed every year though I hoped the government would give me indefinite stay. I have lived here for 17 years now. 

Honestly, I want to stay here forever. I feel welcome and safe; I can walk down the streets of London and see people smiling and it makes me feel happy. It’s multicultural and everyone is different. I don’t really have anywhere else now – London is my whole life. 

I’ll be 40 soon and I’d like to start a family here in London. Brendan always tells me to focus on the future, and I’m desperate to work. I’m reskilling and doing IT lessons, and I hope to start a barista course. These things keep me moving – I love getting stuck into tasks. 

In the future, I want to have my own business; possibly a big shop or café, so I can serve people like Brendan, or maybe even the queen! 

People like Brendan have lifted me up, and now I want to lift others up in return. As I continue to get better, I’m trying to mentor other people and change their lives. I want to show them that no matter what you go through in life, you can overcome it.

Which book has impacted me the most? 

The Bible. I think it’s the most powerful book in the world. It gives me motivation to believe that, with the power of God, you can overcome anything that comes your way.  

Which film has impacted me the most? 

Ghost and Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg. Ghost is very interesting, and it showed me even more that there is a God. Sister Act is a gospel film about a woman that was living a rough life and then she flees to a sisterhood. She went from a rough life to a Christian life, and it inspires me because it shows me that anything is possible. 

Which song has impacted me the most? 

I love music and I play it on my phone all the time. I play gospel music most as it lifts me up. My favourite song is Lean On Me by Kirk Franklin. When I listen to it, I feel happy and relaxed. I don’t think about what happened to me.

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