There are currently over 360,000 asylum seekers and refugees in the UK, but what is life like once they have finally obtained permission to stay in this country? We met one Preston family who, with the help of the local community and a love of football, have begun to build their new life in the city.Advertisement
Santos Chrysantus first came to the UK as an asylum seeker in February 2018. His home country, Cameroon in West Africa, has been locked in a state of civil war since 2016.
Santos told me the decision to flee his country was for his own safety.
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He said: “I stood for my people, the government were against me and wanted me arrested so I escaped to the UK.
“I abandoned my family, my children and my wife and I was here for three years before they joined me.”
One place crucial to helping Santos settle into life in the UK was a weekly Talk English group held a St Cuthbert’s church in Fulwood. Since 2015, the group, run by volunteers, provides basic English tuition, practical support and a space where refugees and asylum seekers can have a hot meal and socialise with each other.
Santos said: “Through the Talk English group, we were always together.
“Not only myself, there were so many other asylum seekers then in Preston.
“For me in particular it was just amazing for me to meet lovely people, they were just like family to me.”
In February 2021, following three years apart, Santos’ family were finally able to join him in the UK. His wife and three young boys Kerry 14, Kessy 12 and Kedrin 9, faced the daunting prospect of starting life a new life in Preston.
Santos recalls a trip to St Anne’s, organised by the Talk English group, shortly after his family arrived in the UK.
He said: “The first two days we were here, they invited us as a family to go for a picnic on St Anne’s beach.
“I saw them playing football, especially Kedrin he was so good, and Kerry and Kessy all of them were interested in the football.”
With the support of Talk English leader Bob Helm, the boys were introduced to Saturday team football at UCLAN Sports Arena, where they attended training sessions held by local club Sir Tom Finney FC.
Founded in 1999, the club, with the slogan “Football for all”, runs over 30 teams and provides grassroots football for adults and children of all social backgrounds.
Bob Helm recalls taking the boys to the Tom Finney FC training sessions and remembers Kedrin standing out, in particular.
He said: “There would be 40 kids running around being coached and then put into teams for a game.
“Kedrin you could see, he’s got speed, he’s got strength, he’s got real ability.”
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Kedrin was subsequently selected to the Sir Tom Finney under-10s (U10s) and scored 23 times in the final seven games of the season. He’s continued to flourish, with a remarkable tally of 56 goals in his second season. Now 11, he plays in the club’s U12s team.
Bob said: “It looks like he’s going to do so well.
“To go down with his dad to UCLan and see him progress through, I’m so proud of him.”
For Santos, a special moment came after his son’s first game.
He said: “Kedrin just had his trainers he had no boots.
“His coach took us to Sports Direct and he bought him boots.”
“He was so happy; he took these boots to his coach and said, ‘These are my golden boots’.”
Kedrin’s success certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed.
He’s been selected to play for the Preston Schools under-12s. In September 2023 he joined the Academy of National League side AFC Fylde, giving him the chance to learn from professional coaches and play matches against teams from around the country.
Kerry and Kessy also continue to play football, representing Sir Tom Finney at U18 and U15 levels. Kerry also attends the Friday night refugee football sessions. Santos couldn’t be prouder of what his sons have achieved.
He said: “Proud is an understatement, I am just so happy to see them playing football, you can see the joy in me.”
“That’s why I have to create every bit of time in my life to support them. That’s why I have to create every bit of time in my life to support them.”
For Santos to see his boys enjoying their football and lives in the UK after three years of forced separation is a touching moment.
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