Belfast Telegraph

Wrightbus sale like the 'long, painful death of a loved one', pastor tells his congregation

Pastor Jeff Wright addresses the congregation
Pastor Jeff Wright addresses the congregation

By Claire O'Boyle

Former Wrightbus director pastor Jeff Wright yesterday gave a tearful sermon at Ballymena's evangelical Green Pastures Church, telling hundreds of worshippers the sale of the company had been like the "long, slow, torturous and painful death of a loved one".

Just two days after a deal was struck selling the iconic manufacturing business to English industrialist Jo Bamford, Mr Wright told the packed-out service the manufacturer was "the best bus company in the world" and "a credit to the people" who worked there. The Wrightbus deal had been delayed after Mr Bamford and Mr Wright were at loggerheads over the sale of assets, as the factory and associated land were still controlled separately by Mr Wright. On Friday, the men announced the resolution of that issue.

Mr Wright said bosses had known the company was "bleeding from a lack of work", but that it was because of the "great people" who worked there, who "had Wrightbus flowing through their veins" that they carried on "in an attempt to keep the jobs".

Friday's announcement about the deal to sell Wrightbus came after the company was placed into administration and put up for sale last month.

Pastor Jeff Wright addresses the congregation
Pastor Jeff Wright addresses the congregation

It is unclear how many ex-Wrightbus employees will be brought back by the new owner, but with outstanding business thought to remain on the company's books, it is understood workers will be needed in the near future.

Opening up to his congregation, Mr Wright (56) admitted there was a "sense of relief" that Wrightbus had "finally been handed over".

He said only the owners could fully understand the "blessing" of Wrightbus, but also the "burden and great responsibility" that came with running the business, which had been in the family for 73 years since it was set up in 1946. Mr Wright said that responsibility had now been handed over for them to "love and cherish" the company, as well as its "awesome" workforce.

Green Pastures, where Mr Wright is lead pastor, received support of £15m over the last six years from Wrightbus' parent company, Cornerstone Group.

Addressing pressure the church and its members have faced since the firm went into administration in September, Mr Wright said he was "sorry" worshippers had to "experience such anger".

Mr Wright said he was "proud" of them, and thanked them for their "trust" in him.

Pastor Jeff Wright addresses the congregation
Pastor Jeff Wright addresses the congregation

Praising the company, which was set up in 1946, Mr Wright said it had produced "the most fuel efficient buses in the world".

Mr Wright, who last month said death threats had been issued against members of his family since the collapse of the business, also thanked the congregation for their support through "hate and intimidation".

Also announced on Friday was the news that 40 acres of farmland owned by the Wright family will be transferred to Mid and East Antrim Borough Council. Yesterday Mr Wright said he hoped it would help create more jobs in the community. He added: "The Lord gives and the Lord sometimes takes away."

Yesterday a spokesperson from Green Pastures' Board of Trustees said the church was "delighted" the deal had been made to secure hundreds of jobs.

"Green Pastures Church is delighted with the news that a deal has been secured to ensure that bus building will continue in Ballymena, and that hundreds of jobs will be secured as a result," the spokesperson said.

"We are also delighted to hear the council's plans for the lands now in their possession and our hope and prayer is that many more jobs will be created through this legacy project.

Green Pastures Church
Green Pastures Church

"We also want to express our appreciation that those who protested at our Sunday services during this difficult time did so in a peaceful and respectful manner."

The spokesperson also said there were "no legal ties" between registered charity Green Pastures Church and Wrightbus, adding that Mr Wright, the founder and lead pastor at the church, was also one of the trustees of the charity.

"He has never drawn a salary, claimed any expenses or benefited financially in any way from the charity," said the spokesperson.

"Since its inception in 2007, Green Pastures has done its best to demonstrate God's love in our local community in as many ways as possible and we will continue to do so to the best of our ability both during this time and in the future."

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