People living in what neighbours have described as a Highams Park "shanty town" have told of their desperation after falling on hard times during the economic downturn.

The small site underneath a railway bridge in Wadham Road is currently home to two middle-aged men who have created two sheltered sleeping areas, a seating area and use a bucket for a shower.

A man who would only give his name as Robert, a  48-year-old father-of-one, has been travelling to and from the UK from Poland since 1998 and worked for many years as a chef in Stratford until the restaurant closed and he fell on hard times.

Robert started drinking heavily following the break-up of his marriage, and took on work with a traveller firm who he says gave him alcohol every day instead of paying him a wage.

"I was working every day and they kept feeding me alcohol because they knew I drank. I kept asking for money and they kept giving me alcohol until one day I left. I couldn’t take it anymore.

"I was always shaking and was too much of a problem and now I’m slowly coming off alcohol," said Robert.

He said: "I want to work. I don’t want benefits. I used to earn £80 a day, now it is £20 a day as there is plenty of people here."

For more on this story see next week's Waltham Forest Guardian and Chingford Guardian.