Journey Begins

Last week ended on a positive note. For some time we had been mulling over the idea of Paul retraining so that eventually he could become self-employed. Paul does not have a specific trade but has much experience and skills relevant to working in the steel industry. As this is no longer a viable option Paul needs to retrain and upskill to give him the chance of making a decent living in the future. We thought that seven weeks on from the closure of SSI that Paul would be working. We did not expect the knock backs from Network Rail and Nissan and were perhaps looking at life through rose tinted spectacles. Of course Paul would find work. He has never been unemployed. Who wouldn’t want to employ a committed, skilled and ready to learn 35year old man? Unfortunately finding a job really is not that easy. Perhaps Paul could find work in an entirely different field. Retail? Call centres? That is not what he wants. He has always worked in heavy industry. That’s what he enjoys and that is what he is good at. He is not ready to throw in the towel and be satisfied with a job paying the minimum wage that gives him no satisfaction. To have your career taken away and be left searching is a truly depressing, sad experience. I am witnessing this right now and fully support Paul in finding something that gives him back his self-worth, confidence and happiness. We know he will never work anywhere like SSI again or with the lads he worked with. It was a great job, great money and great company. He knows he is lucky to have experienced that and striving to find the same will only end in disappointment. However, he does still have a bright future ahead of him, just this time he might need to work a little harder to achieve it and it will take time. We were hit, last week, with the harsh reality that we were facing a long, uncertain journey. Tears were shed and decisions were made.

Soon after the redundancy Paul contacted Trade Gateway, a training provider, and we met with one of their advisors, Tom. Tom came to meet us at home and talked us through the various training options and explained the course requirements to us. At this time we strongly believed that Paul would soon be in work and we didn’t feel ready to commit to the training right away. We would also have to finance the course ourselves and, with a limited income now, we felt concerned our budget would not be able to stretch to this extra expenditure. So Tom left us that evening with food for thought and although the chance at self-employment was very appealing we needed time to consider all of our options.

Fast forward a few weeks and Paul is still in the same redundant position he was in at the end of September. We have talked for weeks about him retraining and after the Nissan knock back we finally thought the time was right to contact Tom and get Paul signed up to the course. We are in a difficult situation right now. We know it won’t last but we also think we now need to take opportunities and make a better future for ourselves. Nobody else can do it for us and the promises of help with training from the government have not come to fruition. We cannot afford to wait for weeks to find out if Paul’s applications for funding have been successful. We need to start making positive steps forward now to ensure that we, and our daughters, have a secure future.

Tom was more than happy to sign Paul up to train as a gas engineer. The course should take around 18 months to complete and is very flexible in order to fit around any other commitments Paul may have. After 9 months Paul will be a qualified plumber and then he will continue to be trained as an electrician before completing the course to become a fully fledged gas engineer. Paul will still need to find work in the meantime or we will struggle to cover the cost of the course. However, our future is looking more positive now and Paul has something to strive for once again.

This week Paul is attending a fork lift truck driving course provided by the Job Centre. He is enjoying getting out every day and refreshing his skills. We hope by undertaking any training he can while he is not working will stand him in good stead when applying for jobs. There are jobs out there that require certain skills that Paul doesn’t yet have. He has applied for funding through the National Careers Service for his site safety passport and a course in Process Technology. These two things would definitely improve his skills and make his CV more attractive to potential employers. Unfortunately time is against us and what we see as a matter of urgency does not appear to be a matter of urgency for those who are in positions to help Paul. It is taking weeks to hear back from NCS about any funding and Paul feels as though he is perhaps an after thought because we do not live in Redcar or the surrounding areas. Paul sees his NCS worker in Sunderland and maybe that is the downside to living so far from where the centre of the crisis is. There is no sense of urgency. On the other hand living in Sunderland means that Paul may not be competing with 2000 other men for the jobs that are available in this area.

Paul has asked for feedback from all of his unsuccessful applications. Thus far he has received none. It would be beneficial to know why his applications have been declined after initial assessments have been passed, to give us some idea of what Paul needs to do to be successful. Again this is a frustration we face daily because those who could offer us some valuable information do not feel it necessary to contact us. They do not understand, or perhaps do not like to think about, the situation we are in. We would welcome any constructive feedback that would give Paul the chance of improving future applications leading to success.

Now Paul is a student of East Durham College and is looking forward to starting his training. This could be a huge opportunity for him and we hope our future will be improved through his decision to retrain. He will be successful I’m sure of it.

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Journey Begins

Setbacks and Opportunities

It’s been a while since I last updated my blog and a few things have happened. I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue writing. The negative comments got to me and made me question whether this was something I wanted to face. This is currently a very stressful time for my family and I. Do I need to compound this stress by opening up about our circumstances, allowing people to express their opinions about our lives? Maybe not. However, I have a voice. I have an opinion. I have a cause and because of this I will continue to write.
Last weekend Paul had his skills test at Nissan. He returned home extremely upbeat and pleased with his performance. I was thrilled and really hoped this was going to be his chance of finding a decent job right on the doorstep. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. For whatever reason, last night, Paul received an email to inform him his application would be taken no further. When I arrived home from work I immediately realised Paul was not himself. He was busy cooking dinner when he turned to me and told me the news. I was gutted for him. We don’t know why he hasn’t been accepted but are awaiting feedback. This was the second knockback in a week. Despite passing the assessments for Network Rail, an email also informed Paul that he had been unsuccessful in their selection process. As yet we do not know why his applications have been unsuccessful but we are hoping feedback from the companies will help us to understand. We need to know what is going wrong so we can put it right.

We cannot afford for Paul to be unemployed for much longer. Our financial situation isn’t great but it’s not just about money. For Paul, the days are long; looking after the girls, attending appointments and carrying out the household chores. This isn’t what he wants long term. He wants to feel valued again and he wants to support his family. As the days and weeks pass by it is growing more difficult to keep Paul positive. Each rejection is a massive setback and it gets harder each time to remain positive.

Everything is taking time. Applications and assessments take time. Appointments take time and trying to get funding for training takes time! Paul has decided to try and utilise this ‘time off work’ and is applying for different training courses that will assist him in finding suitable employment. He found out today that he has been funded to start a fork lift truck driving course next week.

Tomorrow we are meeting with a training provider to discuss the opportunity for Paul to train to become a gas engineer. Although we are living with uncertainty about our future right now, it may be the right time to start making big changes. Maybe we need to exploit this opportunity so that Paul really can be in control of his own destiny. While things were good at SSI we could never have imagined giving any thought to Paul running his own business. However this now seems to be very appealing to both of us and I think Paul should just go for it.

On Tuesday I was invited to speak at an event in Stockton. I’ve never spoken publicly before (I’m not sure reading in church counts?!) but I felt as though this was an opportunity not to be missed. The debate was held in The Storytellers pub and to be honest I hadn’t given it a great deal of thought since I’d received the invite. We met up with Paul’s friends (all ex-SSI) and their wives in a local Italian restaurant prior to the debate. This was the first time since the closure that we had all met up. I enjoyed having a chat with ‘the wives’ and finding out how everyone was getting on. None of the lads have found work yet but despite this we all enjoyed a laugh, it was good to be in their company.

The debate got underway promptly and I was first up. The room was reasonably full but I sensed a friendly crowd and my nerves were put at ease. I had made a few notes but once I started to talk I just spoke from my heart and the words flowed easily. I’ve no idea how long I spoke for but I received a good response. There were people in the audience ready to stand up and be heard unafraid to voice their opinions. They inspired me. The chairperson, Jessie, said something about people wanting change need to be political and need to be heard. Moreover, I believe they need to be listened to. The people in power make decisions that impact on all of us. We can make challenges. We do not have to sit back and take it. From now on I am going to stand up for what I believe in and not be afraid to use my voice.

This time tomorrow I hope Paul has signed up for the gas engineer training. I think this will give him and us a focus and although it will be hardwork and time consuming the end result should be rewarding. In times of adversity there may be opportunity. That’s what we are hoping for anyway.

Setbacks and Opportunities

Thankful and No Thanks

This  week we enjoyed a few days away in The Lakes where the weather was glorious and perfect for exploring the outdoors. The girls are yet to get to an age where they can appreciate the beauty of things and generally have to bribed with an ice-cream in order for them to walk from A to B. However, with a little ‘gentle’ persuasion we did complete a couple of lovely walks to Askham Hall and Aira Force. I have always loved The Lakes and holidayed there annually with my family when growing up. I’ve climbed most of the highest peaks there but have yet to tackle Scafell Pike. One day I’m going to fulfil that particular challenge! So far, the girls, in particular Honor, do not seem to have inherited the hiking gene. I suspect she may be more like her Aunty Maddy, opting to enjoy a picnic and a plodge (mackem term for a paddle) in the nearest stream! Monica is more willing to walk so perhaps in the future it’ll be her and I scaling the peaks while Honor and Paul visit the local pub.

The closure of SSI is still very much in the media spotlight. I follow certain pages on Facebook and Twitter interested in hearing how people are getting on with their search for work. The pages are also a good source of information for training opportunities and job vacancies. However, I have been disappointed in some of the comments people have made with regard to SSI workers. People have written that the ex-steelworker’s should be thankful to the government for the help they have received. I think this is where people are missing the point. I can only speak for myself (and Paul) but we were accepting of the fact that he was going to lose his job. SSI were in millions of pounds worth of debt and any business owing that much money is not going to survive. For that we were prepared. When we heard the site was to be mothballed we still had a glimmer of hope that, in the future, steel making would return to Redcar. It was when the news broke that SSI was to be liquidated that things began to take on a different hue. From that point we knew Paul would not receive the redundancy package he was entitled to and would have to claim for any monies owed. The company had ceased to exist and therefore had relinquished any responsibilities it might have had towards it’s employees. At this point the government were not to blame. They could not keep afloat a company haemorrhaging money and they also promised to put in to place an £80m support package. That sum appeared reasonable and gave the worker’s hope that they would be suitably retrained and supported to help them find work as soon as possible.

Five weeks have now elapsed since the fateful day Paul heard the words ‘it’s game over lads’. He has, thus far, recieved the sum of £1700. He is in the assessment process for a couple of jobs but, as yet, has no concrete offer of employment. We have asked on several occasions, ‘how can we access the training fund?’. Anna Turley, MP for Redcar, has asked the question to David Cameron in parliament. We know that the redundancies have been paid out of this money but there must be £50m still left in the pot that belongs to the workers. Nobody seems to be able to answer this question. If we were able to secure funding for Paul to retrain then that is what he would like to do most of all. He can see a future in having his own business and having only himself to rely upon rather than work under the worry that this could happen again.

The government has let down the workers in a number of ways. They did not allow time for a buyer to be found. Offers were made but the government declined them all. We do not know why. The steel plant has been left in a state that would make it virtually impossible to start up again. I doubt that I am alone in fully understanding how a steel plant should be shut down, but I have learned a few things from Paul recently. The blast furnace was switched off. The coke ovens that produced the heat needed for turning the iron ore into steel were abandoned. Once the heat is withdrawn the coke ovens begin collapsing in on themselves and for steel making to return new coke ovens would need building. Once the fires burn out there is little chance of a buyer coming forward as it would be too costly to rebuild. The blast furnace was continuously heated by the coke ovens to around 1500 degrees. The iron ore becomes molten metal and runs out of a tap hole at the bottom of the furnace. From there it is purified and cooled in to steel slabs. Previously when the blast was turned off in 2010 the molten metal was drained from the furnace using a slamander tap. This time the molten metal has been left in the furnace. Therefore it will continue to solidify as there is no heat anymore. In order to reignite the blast a huge clean up operation would be needed at the cost of millions of pounds. It is difficult for anyone who has not been in to the steel plant to understand the scale of the operation. The place is huge! I hope that I have explained a little, perhaps, of why allowing the coke ovens to cool was sounding the death knell for steel making at Redcar.

This is why I, and others, are angry with the government. They could have mothballed the site and given the area just a little bit of hope that the industry hadn’t burned out all together. I am also frustrated with the government for not making itself clear as to how to access funding and what the funding can be used for. To wave a figure of £80m around seems great and the general public are thinking that the steelworker’s are being well looked after. This is not true. The government are making it very difficult to access and are not communicating with us at all on the matter.

This week Jeremy Corbyn made a visit to Scunthorpe. He spoke to the people affected by the closure of the steelworks. He showed he was bothered. It makes a mockery of the industry and the steelworker’s themselves that our Prime Minister cannot visit the areas affected and see for himself how damaging this closure is for the region and it’s economy. I was also appalled at the photograph showing how many conservative ministers were present for the steel debate in parliament – a handful. It just tells me that they are not bothered about the industry but most of all they are not bothered about the workers and their families. I do not feel the government are worthy of my thanks and gratitude because so far they have not helped us. Other than the redundancy payments the workers have received, the government have shown no respect and no interest in us. They appear to be more concerned with finding ways to make money through cutting tax credits and privatising the NHS. This government is not supporting the ordinary, hardworking people. It is abandoning us. For those saying we should have savings that we can fall back on. We do. However, these savings were not supposed to cover periods of unemployment, they were supposed to be buying us a home capable of accommodating a family of four.

There have been a few negative comments but in the main the public have been very supportive and we are extremely grateful for that. We have received offers of financial help from complete strangers and have been humbled by their generosity. We are not, yet, in a position where we need to accept help from others. However, it has highlighted to me the number of wonderful, caring and generous individuals who are out there willing to help complete strangers. In a time of great uncertainty for us you have shown great selflessness and your kind words have given us strength – thank you.

So ultimately I do not feel indebted to our government or prepared to thank them. There are industries that have received governmental assistance in the past but this time the steel industry has been overlooked, thought of as not worthy; that is how it seems to me. Perhaps if the government were prepared to speak to those affected then we might better understand their reasons for pulling the plug on the industry. We can only surmise that they believe the country is better off without it and that they do not care about the impact the loss of Redcar steelworks will have. Maybe they don’t understand it’s importance in the infrastructure of our empire. Maybe they would understand more if they listened, spoke to and acknowledged their own people.

Thankful and No Thanks