A young man’s battle to find a job saw him taken abroad to work as a virtual ‘prisoner’ in Scandinavia.
But even this was better than his life living in a bin-bag under Blackpool’s Central Pier.
John Pace says he was so desperate for a job he accepted an offer to help lay drives with a group of travellers.
It ended with him being taken overseas to work from dawn until midnight for next to nothing, before he finally spotted an escape route and ran away through a Swedish forest to flee his ‘captors’.
John told his story to The Gazette as part of our investigation into the resort’s Lost Generation of young people who are growing up with no jobs and little hope.
John left home at 16 amid family difficulties and says he slept rough under Central Pier with just a bin-bag for cover when he couldn’t get a space on the sofas or floors of friends’ homes.
Despite earning a qualification as a heating engineer with an NVQ from Blackpool and The Fylde College he was unable to find a job in the resort.
Two years of unemployment later he was standing on Dickson Road when he was approached by two men offering him work.
John said: “Two Irish blokes pulled up and asked if I wanted work, a roof over my head and everything paid for, and obviously I didn’t have any other work, so I said yes.
“They took me to Sweden, Norway, and Denmark doing asphalting work - but it was desperately hard, working from 5am to 11pm or later for £40-per-day.
“I felt like a prisoner, I was threatened every day and they would force me to steal things. They were on you all the time and it was just impossible to escape.”
John told how he was verbally and sometimes physically intimidated by the men and left under no illusion they were effectively gang masters.
“It was pretty frightening and very difficult to get away. I was forced to knock on doors and encourage people to get their drives done. I hated it.
“And they would get me stealing things, anything. I remember them forcing me to shoplift cans of dog food and I was thinking ‘what the hell am I doing? I have to get away’.
One morning, while on a job in Sweden, the two men made the unusual decision to get breakfast - leaving him alone in the caravan.
He said: “I did a runner. I ran through this forest, not knowing where I was or where I was going. I just ran and ran, then I’d sit down exhausted and catch my breath then I’d run some more.”
Eventually John found a road and a shop and, using his experience of sleeping rough under Central Pier, spent the small amount of cash he had on a couple of bin-bags to spend the night under.
He said: “It was raining but I managed to get my head down under this bush - it was pretty awful but what can you do?
“Suddenly this lovely woman was talking to me and asking if I was okay and I explained I had run away from Irish travellers. She was basically my good Samaritan and somehow managed to get her local church to pay for my airfare home.”
Now back in Blackpool John can laugh about his harrowing ordeal - but finding work in the resort is still no joke.
He said: “I’m finding it really hard to get a job, there’s just nothing.
“I know everyone seems to be going on about elderly people’s rights and that’s fine but they need to think about the young too. All we want is a roof over our heads and a chance to earn a wage - it doesn’t seem too much to ask.”
John said he felt the Government was failing the kids of Blackpool saying: “When you’re in Year 10 at school you go out and do work experience but usually it’s just a joke. There should be a commitment that if you do well then that work experience can turn into a job.
“I have really really been trying to get work but no-one is willing to take me on. I’ve never had a full time job.”
A spokesman for the homeless charity Crisis said: “John’s is a remarkable story and John seems to have dealt with the situation in a remarkable way.
“But it shows that sometimes having nowhere to live and no job can leave young people vulnerable and apt to make decisions they probably would not make otherwise.
“We would always recommend that people in John’s situation always the facilities and use proper safety nest available like our outreach teams.”
A spokesman for Lancashire Police said: “The exploitation of people is a serious issue and traffickers often target the vulnerable, moving them around from place to place and making money out of their exploitation. Victims of trafficking are victims of slavery and we have a duty to protect them, provide a safe haven and prosecute those who exploit them. We’d urge people to report any concerns about individuals to police.”
Read more from The Gazette investigation - The lost generation: