Former Wrightbus workers protest outside evangelical church

Parent company made donations of more than £16 million to Green Pastures Church

Protesters outside Green Pastures church in Ballymena during a Sunday Service. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Protesters outside Green Pastures church in Ballymena during a Sunday Service. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

Several hundred redundant Wrightbus workers protested on Sunday outside an evangelical church in Ballymena which received millions of pounds in donations from their former employers.

A series of pointed biblical passages were emblazoned on banners and placards held by protesters and tied to the gates of Green Pastures Church in the Co Antrim town on Sunday.

A number of Wrightbus workers’ uniform shirts were tied to the church gates, representing the 1,200 workers made redundant earlier this week when the business entered administration after a fall in demand for its buses.

People in the crowd outside the church and also their former workplace next door, on the Fenaghy Road in the Galgorm Industrial Estate , said they feel overwhelmed, let down and frustrated with former director Jeff Wright’s handling of the collapse of the company founded by his family in the 1940s.

Wrightbus parent company Cornerstone Group Limited, of which Mr Wright is a majority shareholder, made charitable donations of more than £16 million to the church between 2010 and 2017, mostly donated when the business was profitable.

During the Sunday morning service at Green Pastures Church, an emotional Mr Wright, son of Wrightbus founder Sir William Wright, told the congregation that it was a “difficult and sad day”.

He also said his family had been “intimidated” in recent days, which was thought to be a reference to claims made on Friday that the Wright family has received death threats.

He said he was refusing to “publicly jeopardise talks” and destroy the last chances of saving the workforce, staff and local suppliers, “just so that I can look good” . He asked the packed church to pray for the people standing outside the church and asked God to “rescue and provide”.

While his father William Wright was applauded by some of the workers outside when he entered and left the church, the main complaints from protesters were about Jeff Wright.

Former Wrightbus driver Colin Graham said displays of emotion from their former boss at the service were “for a sympathy vote”.

Mr Graham said workers want Jeff Wright to give the land the business is on to a buyer at “a rock bottom price so work can start again”.

A book full of personal reflections and questions was put together by workers and handed into the church for Jeff Wright’s attention.

Maintenance worker Ashley Stewart (58) from Ahoghill said he was stunned to lose his job. “They kept telling us everything was ok,” he said. “Where would I get another job at my age, seriously? I feel so let down by upper management.”

Former Wrightbus employee Davy Robinson (35), who had worked for the company for 19 years, said he was “gutted” to be out of work but thanked local businesses and the wider community for their support.

Mr Robinson said “every penny is a prisoner now”, that he was not sure how he was going to pay his mortgage and bills, or when he can spoil his children again.

James Hughes (77) from Ballymena said he took part in the protest on behalf of two sons who had both been made redundant.

“My sons have families to look after,” he said.