Belfast Telegraph

Wrightbus: Concern for mental wellbeing of staff after bombshell of losing job hits home

Emotional: Wesley Anderson
Emotional: Wesley Anderson
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

Wrightbus workers have said they fear for the mental health of the workforce following the "punch to the gut" news that the Ballymena company is entering into administration.

On Wednesday the company's 1,200 employees learned that its board had appointed administrators to oversee the insolvent firm.

The move signals an end to a 73-year success story which had employed tens of thousands of people over three generations.

As staff were told that their fate was sealed, many embraced long-standing colleagues, and some cried, knowing that the move would have a catastrophic impact on their families.

Even though administration of the company had been anticipated for months - with the company acknowledging cash flow problems in July when it announced it was looking for investors - some workers said that the finality of the words still came as a huge shock.

Others warned they were now fearful of the mental health impact the collapse would have on workers, many of whom are experts in their field but have no transferable qualifications.

Wesley Anderson (54) from Broughshane said yesterday that leaving his workplace after two decades has been "hugely emotional".

"It is a lifetime and I enjoyed it while I was there. My stepson who is 24 also works there," he said.

"I suppose it was like a family business. I know a lot of people whose entire families worked in the place - their dad, their sons and their daughters, all out of work.

"There have been fears since July about closure. Work was slowing down. We were sort of expecting it, and hoping against hope that it wouldn't happen. But things just got worse."

He added: "I was sitting there on a Wednesday morning and the rug was just pulled from underneath me. Twenty-one years and it just stopped. It felt terrible. I was in a routine of getting up at 7am and going to work, meeting my friends and workmates, coming home and doing my own thing. And now I am just at a loss. There is nothing to do.

"We will struggle with bills, we were a two-income household and now we have just one. I was always used to good money coming in. I need to look for something else now. I couldn't sit about. I'm a man used to going out to work. It is soul-destroying."

Father-of-one Alan Jack (33), who is originally from Scotland but lives in Limavady, said he had to sign on for dole for the first time in his life.

"I am from Scotland and moved over here five years ago to work at Wrightbus," he said.

"Everybody had sensed this was coming. The work had slowed down and we were hardly building anything. But it was still a big slap up the face on Wednesday morning when they said we were all redundant.

"In some ways it was a relief. It had been hard this last three or four weeks. There was a lot of pressure on us. We kind of knew that it was going this way, but we didn't really want to believe it. We thought someone would buy it. Unfortunately that hasn't happened."

He continued: "Yesterday I had to go and sign on. I have never been unemployed before, so I didn't know the protocol. A lot of people in Wrightbus have been in there since school. There was a guy in there yesterday as we left that had 47 years' service. What is he going to do?"

Alan said he has been left feeling "dejected".

"It was so emotional leaving the place yesterday. Since I moved over here, Wrightbus is all I've known," he explained.

"All my friends are from there. I don't know anyone else. I've never met anyone else outside my work since I moved over to Northern Ireland. It's really sad.

"This has left me feeling really dejected. We were like a family in Wrightbus."

Twenty-four-year-old Hugo Graham from Ahoghill, who joined Wrightbus on an apprenticeship after leaving school, stressed he is concerned about the mental health of a entire workforce facing redundancy.

He said: "On Wednesday we were told we were being made redundant. It was a big shock, particularly after the meeting the week before where they told us that final contracts were being signed. They left us all at the weekend feeling better than we had done in weeks.

"The only meetings we had up until that point, management would tell us not to believe what is in the Press. That is laughable, because the Press has told us more truth than they have ever told us."

Mr Graham added that he felt anger and sadness walking out of the only workplace he has ever known, adding that his dreams of buying his first home have now been shelved. "I have never been made redundant before," he said. "As I was walking out the gates I just felt sad. I spent more time with those lads in there in eight years than I did in my own home. I saw them every day of the week, 10 hours a day. I just felt betrayed, angry and let down."

He added: "I was saving up for my own house and that is going to be put on hold now. But there are people worse off than me.

"I know people who went into Wrightbus straight from school who didn't have any qualifications and are now looking for a job. I know hundreds and hundreds of people will be trying to find a job."

Mr Graham continued: "They are only qualified in coach building so they will have great difficulty finding any other permanent job."

He is scared of the impact on mental health the experience of signing on will have on his colleagues.

"We spent more time in Wrightbus than we did with our own families. The group of boys that you work with are basically a home from home," he added.

"There are people you would tell more stuff to than anyone and they are the people who were there for you when you needed them. Being at home and not having that is scary."

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