Belfast Telegraph

Ex-Wrightbus worker: I can’t afford to fund my girl’s gymnastics dream... I feel as though I’ve failed her

Jim McMaster who has lost his job at Wrightbus after 27 years
Jim McMaster who has lost his job at Wrightbus after 27 years
Jim's daughter Rachel, a rising star in gymnastics
Jim's daughter Rachel, a rising star in gymnastics
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

A former Wrightbus worker believes he has failed his daughter as the loss of his job means he can no longer afford to fund her dream of becoming a world-class gymnast.

Heartbroken Jim McMaster was among the 1,200 workforce at the Ballymena bus-making firm which collapsed last week.

The 46-year-old from Craigavon had worked for the company since August 1992, beginning as an apprentice coach builder and working his way up to a technical documentation specialist.

He is now facing an uncertain future of unemployment and poverty and realises the extent of the heartbreaking personal toll the loss of his career will have on him and his family.

His talented daughter Rachel, who lives in Bangor with her mum and is a student at Glenlola Collegiate School, hopes to one day compete in the Olympics. She recently qualified for two major competitions in England.

"It's going to be terrible when I have no choice but to tell her daddy has lost his job so she has to quit gymnastics," a tearful Jim said yesterday.

"I know she is going to be heartbroken."

In the last few months Jim has paid out more than £1,000 for Rachel's gymnastics insurance, membership, competitions and fuel costs to take her to Salto Gymnastics Club in Lisburn.

"I had a good wage to just about cover all my bills and the cost of Rachel's gymnastics fees," he added.

"I was paying £140 each month in diesel to get her to Lisburn plus £130 a month on top of that for the actual training. She has two competitions coming up in October and November in England which cost up to £300 each that I now don't have after being made redundant.

"I relied on my job to support my young daughter's dream.

"While most gymnasts start off aged five, Rachel was a late starter but since the age of 10 she has worked herself up to the highest level for her age.

"She is such a nice wee girl so how do I tell a young rising star that she has to give up on her dream?

"This is heartbreaking for me as my daughter's ambition is to compete in the Olympics.

"I'm trying to stay positive for her but it is just an absolute nightmare."

Jim said he was gutted to learn last week that he had lost his job after 27 years.

He continued: "I didn't think for one moment that Wrightbus was going to go into administration and close down.

"It was an absolute shock to be told to just go home. There were grown men crying at the news because we all felt that we had been part of something great."

But Jim, who has another daughter, Rebecca, who is aged 15, said he feels no anger towards the Wright family for what has happened.

"I am not pointing the finger of blame at the Wright family - it's just one of those things," he continued. "As far as I'm concerned Sir William Wright is an absolute gentleman and I would love to shake his hand as this is not his fault.

"I'm just hoping that there's some sort of a miracle rescue and we can all get our jobs back so that I can keep Rachel in gymnastics.

"Without that her hopes and dreams are over and I feel as though I've failed her as a daddy.

"My job was a pretty specialist role that will be hard to find elsewhere without going across the water and leaving my family behind."

Due to his dire financial situation, Jim was unable to join his fellow laid-off workers at Sunday's demonstration outside the Green Pastures Church.

The church received charitable donations of around £15m in the last six years through the Cornerstone Group, which ultimately controls Wrights Group.

Jim added: "I don't have enough diesel in my car to go anywhere except to travel to Ballymena on Tuesday for job interviews and to see about my redundancy payments so what little I have left has to get me there.

"By October 20 I will be in the red as we won't get our redundancy payments for 10 weeks so I will have no way to get Rachel to gymnastics at that point.

"Rachel turns 14 in November and I won't even be able to get her a birthday present. That's how bad things have got and I'm just so devastated."

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