Belfast Telegraph

Wrightbus founder apologises to workers during Green Pastures protest

The founder of Wrightbus has apologised to workers and their families outside the Green Pastures church in Ballymena.

Sir William Wright (92) was applauded as he walked into the church as hundreds of workers gathered to protest the loss of around 1,200 jobs after the Ballymena bus manufacturer was placed into administration earlier this week.

Protest outside Green Pastures Church in Ballymena by former Wrightbus employees
Protest outside Green Pastures Church in Ballymena by former Wrightbus employees
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 29th September 2019 Protest outside Green Pastures Church in Ballymena by former Wrightbus employees. The bus manufacturing business shut last week after a deal with a buyer fell through with the loss of 1,400 jobs. The church is closely associated with the factory and its owners and sits on the same land. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 29th September 2019 Protest outside Green Pastures Church in Ballymena by former Wrightbus employees. The bus manufacturing business shut last week after a deal with a buyer fell through with the loss of 1,400 jobs. The church is closely associated with the factory and its owners and sits on the same land. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 29th September 2019 Protest outside Green Pastures Church in Ballymena by former Wrightbus employees. The bus manufacturing business shut last week after a deal with a buyer fell through with the loss of 1,400 jobs. The church is closely associated with the factory and its owners and sits on the same land. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Around 500 former Wrightbus employees and their families held the protest outside the church, which is linked to the son of Sir William, Jeff Wright.

The workers have lined the perimeter of the church and draped their work shirts on fences in the area.

Questions have been asked about £15 million donations to the Green Pastures charity from company dividends when the Co Antrim bus manufacturer was profitable.

Community police mingled with the demonstrators but the atmosphere was not violent.

Sir William Wright, founder of Wrightbus, a bus manufacturing company based in Co Antrim which has been placed into administration. (PA)
Sir William Wright, founder of Wrightbus, a bus manufacturing company based in Co Antrim which has been placed into administration. (PA)

Jeff Wright addressed the congregation at the Green Pastures church near Ballymena.

He said he had not spoken out before for fear of jeopardising delicate negotiations aimed at saving the firm.

He added: "It is a difficult day, it is a sad day", as he thanked the congregation for all the text messages of support.

Pastor James McConnell, a Belfast preacher, attended the service in solidarity.

Mr Wright displayed a photo of the Wright family 60 years ago with a blue bus.

"This picture represents the heart and soul of what it takes to make a good company a great company."

Mr Wright said a lot of people were afraid and scared about the future.

"They don't know what way to turn, so we must be mindful of that.

"I won't jeopardise the future so I can look good."

"I am so sorry that this church has to go through what they went through, I never thought this would happen."

Andrew French, 34, from nearby Ahoghill, worked at the plant for 18 years. His father spent 43 years there and his sister was also an employee.

He said: "Every single one of us feels let down."

He is married with a 10-month-old baby and a four-year-old and asked whether Christmas is going to have to be cancelled?

"This is all I know, I have been in here since I left school. Eighteen years service for what, statutory redundancy which you cannot get for 10 weeks?

"It is an awful situation to be in."

It emerged on Saturday night that death threats  have been issued against the Wright family following the collapse of their business.

Jeff Wright, who is a former director in the company, called on all elected representatives and those with influence in the community to "help end this intimidation and fear".

A spokesperson for the family said police are taking the matter very seriously.

A police spokesperson said: "We do not discuss the security of individuals and no inference should be drawn from this.

"However, if we receive information that a person’s life may be at risk we will inform them accordingly. We never ignore anything which may put an individual at risk."

Wrightbus had a reputation for building ultra low emissions buses including London's Routemaster double decker when Boris Johnson was mayor.

The Wright family, who established the firm in 1946, have blamed the collapse on global changes from diesel to electric buses, causing a drop in demand.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph