Belfast Telegraph

Mark Bain: What a difference a day makes for Wrightbus

Happiness at Ballymena as Union reps deliver the news that a deal to save Wrightbus has been accepted. Credit: Presseye/Stephen Hamilton
Happiness at Ballymena as Union reps deliver the news that a deal to save Wrightbus has been accepted. Credit: Presseye/Stephen Hamilton
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Lashed by rain and howling games throughout Thursday, the thunderous clouds covering Ballymena relented on Friday morning, a perfect mirror image of the mood of Wrightbus workers on the ground below.

Friday’s unexpected late Autumn sunshine, while not exactly paving the streets with gold, at least hinted at a brighter outlook. Thursday’s cloud did have a silver lining.

The news of the deal in principle for Jo Bamford to purchase the ailing Wrightbus company hadn’t reach everyone around the town and there was still an initial reluctance once ‘Wrightbus’ was mentioned for anyone to talk.

Protests at the Green Pastures Church, to where some £15 million in donations had been made and where Jeff Wright leads his congregation as pastor, demonstrated feelings were raw after the company had gone into administration on September 25.

Two weeks of turmoil for a town that has seen it’s fair share in recent years, with two of their biggest employers, Michelin and Gallahers having fallen by the wayside.

One of those Gallaher workers who had gone through a similar experience said he was relieved for those involved in the latest economic drama to grip the area.

“Ballymena has had a lot of hard hits recently,” said retired Peter Alexander.

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Wrightbus workers celebrate as news breaks that a Deal was reached 'in principle' for Wrightbus sale. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Wrightbus workers celebrate as news breaks that a Deal was reached 'in principle' for Wrightbus sale. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

“We can only hope now that as many of those jobs as possible can be secured.”

Coffee shop owner Jack Hutchinson, another former Gallahers man, said he was relieved to know economic disaster hasn’t struck for a third time.

“I’m happy it’s resolved,” he said.

“There have been a lot of tough times in Ballymena, and we have to remember that we’re still where we were a few weeks ago.

“And one thing we need to know is will the suppliers to Wrightbus be looked after? There are a lot of local businesses who have been left dealing with outstanding payments.”

At the other end of the employment ladder, Stephen Getty is trying to get his foot on the first rung and had applied for a job at Wrightbus earlier this year, but has heard nothing from them since.

“It’s good to hear something positive for the town,” he said.

“Hopefully this will be the start of something good for people like me who need a job.”

The addition of the Wright family gifting their 40 acres of farmland to the council, with the possibility of it being used to build an innovation centre, was also welcomed.

Pacemaker Press 10/10/19
Wrightbus workers celebrate as news breaks that a Deal was reached 'in principle' for Wrightbus sale.
Bidder Jo Bamford said agreement had been reached with
Pacemaker Press 10/10/19 Wrightbus workers celebrate as news breaks that a Deal was reached 'in principle' for Wrightbus sale. Bidder Jo Bamford said agreement had been reached with "the Wright family for the Wrightbus factory and land". "We are still to conclude a deal with the administrators but are pleased to report this important step in the right direction. "I would like to thank Ian Paisley for his hard work and diligence in helping to mediate what has at times been a tricky negotiation." Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Like Stephen, Bobby Hargan has tried for a job at Wrightbus with no success.

“I can understand why they never got back to me now,” he said. “But at least there’s a bit of hope for the future.

“And if the council are going to try for a new centre, well that’s the sort of news we want to hear.”

Eileen Brown also said she was relieved on behalf of the town but there is still an undercurrent of distaste as to how the company ended up in such dire straits in the first place.

“It’s been hard to watch,” said Eileen. “You just feared the worst, particularly after what happened with Michelin and Gallahers. They were huge blows to the town. It would have been very difficult to take another one.”

Ballymena, for today, has come up for a long awaited breath of fresh air, but no one is taking anything for granted. They’ve seen too many tough times to get carried away just yet.

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