Belfast Telegraph

Margaret Canning: An emotional process has come to an end but hard work for new Wrightbus owner now begins

Sir William Wright
Sir William Wright
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

The deal for the sale of the Wrightbus factory and land is cause for celebration.

But it has been a painful and highly emotional process, played out from the factory gates to the stage of the evangelical Green Pastures Church in Ballymena, where Jeff Wright (56) is pastor.

Green Pastures has received support of £15m over the last six years from Wrightbus' parent company, Cornerstone Group.

The new owner of the main factory is from a devoutly Catholic family.

His father, Lord Bamford, the chairman of equipment group JCB, is a staunch Brexiteer, like Wrightbus company founder Sir William Wright. Lord Bamford also funded the 2010 visit of Pope Benedict to the UK.

Relationships of members of the extended Wright family have been centre stage.

When it became clear that workers hadn't been paid as the company's insolvency was confirmed, Lorraine Rock (61), Sir William's daughter and a director, settled the wage bill of £570,000.

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Another sister, Mandy (64), had been quiet throughout, but her son and daughter, Fiona and Chris, have used social media to vent their anger at what's happened, with Chris saying on Thursday night: "The right thing needs to be done. Get the whole site sold and give the people their future back." Jo Bamford and his company, Ryse Hydrogen, coming on board is only the end of the beginning of an exhaustive process.

He will be tasked with getting the company back on its feet after years of trading difficulties.

That will involve restoring its battered reputation among suppliers and customers.

Suppliers in Northern Ireland are believed to be owed a total of £25m, and it's unlikely that they'll get more of a fraction of that out of the administration of the company.

Mr Bamford and his company will have to do a lot of convincing to get suppliers to work with him again if they are bruised by the impact of those debts. Wrightbus had been the embodiment of family business success.

As it passes out of the Wright family after 73 years, let's hope it gets back on the road to success.

Belfast Telegraph