Tonight I am going to talk about Billy. Billy Ayres. 52 years old. A steelworker, husband, father and friend. Billy worked on D-Shift with Paul and the rest of the lads. He’s married to Helen and father to two boys and step-father to Helen’s two children. I asked Billy some questions to give a further insight in to the human impact of the SSI closure. I was blown away with his answers. These are real words, from a real man living this unreal situation. A dedicated, hardworking and loving individual who has given Paul guidance and friendship throughout his time at SSI. I have met Billy twice, he looks like Marti Pellow, has a genuine twinkle in his eye and a smiling, friendly face. Despite only meeting him twice, I feel as though I know him from how Paul talks about him. If Billy hadn’t been a part of D-Shift, Paul’s time at SSI wouldn’t have been half as good. Fact.
Billy has worked at the steelworks for thirty-one years. He started there when Paul was just four years old. A lifetime for many. Apart from job satisfaction, Billy enjoyed the company (even that of a mackem!!) and the friendship of not only his own shift but the hundreds of co-workers across the plant. D-shift, for Billy, was unique and they shared a special bond in a harsh, hostile and often dangerous environment. Despite working long and tiring hours the banter and camaraderie helped get the lads through and made the job so much easier and enjoyable. Over the years Billy has made some great friends and is concerned that he will lose touch with many of them as they all try to make new lives for themselves. Paul joined a group of men who had worked in the industry for years, however, even he was accepted and shared the special bond that Billy believes will never be experienced again. “I am going to miss it deeply”. Poignant words.
I asked Billy about his future. What does it hold for him and his family? He is still shell-shocked and in his words feels abandoned, let down, useless and sad. Writing this is hard, it makes me angry and it makes me want to cry. Billy is just one of hundreds of men. How many of them are feeling useless and abandoned right now? What is happening to help these people? Who is listening? He doesn’t know what the future holds but has already applied for a variety of jobs including driver, undertaker, factory operator and even a lollipop man. We laughed when Billy sent Paul a text to tell him he’d applied to be an undertaker – at least he’ll never be out of work! It’s not funny though. It’s a tragedy and a travesty that these skilled, hardworking men are looking in desperation for a job. Anything. They cannot live on fresh air. Billy is struggling to come to terms with his loss and feels as though he is on an emotional roller coaster. One minute he feels hopeful the next full of despair. For Billy, the notion of applying for jobs online is just damn right alien to him. He has worked in the same industry for 31 years, long before having the internet was “the norm”. He is frustrated, this is not how he imagined things would turn out.
We all have our views on who is to blame for the situation at Redcar. Billy blames the government. Not just this one but the one before it too. They are collectively to blame. He is angry that the government, together with the “Northern Powerhouse” (a joke) could have done more and helped the steel works by money through the back door. How can other countries do it? Billy says our government just don’t have the will. He also believes that geography plays a big part in the decision to close down the steel plant. “If the steelworks was based down south there would have been no closure”.
The impact on Billy’s family life has been huge. It hasn’t only effected him and Helen but has had a rippling effect across extended family members. Billy’s children will not receive any child maintenance while their father is out of work and his step-daughter, studying at university, will also lose out on the financial help she was receiving. Helen was about to start driving lessons which have now had to be cancelled. This year Billy and Helen will have to cut back on Christmas as they struggle to make ends meet. As well as the financial impact Helen and Billy are finding that all they are talking about is the uncertain future they face. Everything is unknown and the routine and safety of their daily lives has been ripped out. Through all of the uncertainty Billy can still raise a smile and is pleased to say the house and cupboards have never been so clean and tidy and the dog is glad of the company!
As well as the personal loss, Billy is concerned for the welfare of the area of Redcar. He believes the closing down of SSI will be devastating not only for Redcar but for the outlying towns and villages. From cleaners to burger vans to contractors to shopkeepers, everyone will feel the loss. Billy and Helen can no longer afford to eat out in the local restaurants and will have to reduce their shopping budget so that they can live within their means. A town that has seen recent investment in it’s seafront will now struggle to sustain itself.
Billy would like to challenge “Mr Cameron and his bunch of merry men” to meet him and find him a job. Maybe if Billy had been a corrupt banker or an MP fiddling expenses and not just a hardworking steelworker he might have had a rosier future to look forward to. Instead he feels as though he has been tossed aside like oily old rags.
Paul and I are not the only ones in this situation. We need to remember that. I wish Billy and all the recently redundant workers all the best in their search for work. I also thank Billy for helping Paul to settle in and become a valued member of D-Shift.