Sunday Smiling

Today has been a good day. As always, when derby day arrives, I awoke with a feeling of excitement mixed with nerves. Hopeful that today Sunderland would pick up their first three points of the season. Hopeful that Sunderland would achieve an unimaginable six wins in a row against their biggest rivals, Newcastle. I used to have a season ticket with my dad. However, after Monica’s arrival I decided to give it up. I figured I wouldn’t have much time on my hands with two small children to amuse but hope, one-day, that we will all go to the match as a family. Paul has a season ticket alongside his dad and they are die-hard fans who will go to the match no matter what. From leaving our house Paul can be sat in his seat within five minutes, though usually a stop off at The Wheatsheaf somewhat lengthens the journey. Today was slightly different due to the midday kick off, so Paul headed directly for The Stadium of Light to take up his place alongside another 45,000 nervous, apprehensive and hopeful fans. His parting shot was, “surely something good has to happen soon”, in reference to his recent redundancy. He was not to be disappointed! Cue goals by Johnson, Jones and Fletcher, the win was secured and Paul arrived home smiling.
The rivalry between Newcastle and Sunderland is legendary. In the past there have been violent scenes which have marred a truly magnificent sporting event. In recent seasons,however, the animosity between fans has dissipated slightly particularly since the deaths of the two Newcastle fans, Liam Sweeney and John Alder, on board flight MH17. No genuine Sunderland fan would wish harm on any Newcastle fan. We are all just passionate, enthusiastic Northerners proud of our heritage. All that aside I’m convinced there’s no better feeling than getting one over your rivals!
When Paul arrived home, in buoyant mood, we packed the car and headed for Lowther Park, Penrith. We are so ready for a few days away, just the four of us. The pressure of the last four weeks has built up and we just need a little bit of peace and quiet. Our friends, Rachel and George, kindly offered us the use of their lodge and we jumped at the chance. Despite a stop start journey we are here now, onesies on and red wine uncorked!
All in all it’s been a grand day and better still no work tomorrow, just some relaxing, family time. Today has been a good day.

Sunday Smiling

Past, Present and Future

Thank goodness it’s half term! I have officially hit a brick wall and today I just had to sleep. Work is always hugely busy, always something to do and getting back in the swing of things after six weeks off takes its toll. Coupled with the emotional roller coaster we have ridden this term, it’s been tough. The media interest and keeping up with my blog has also impacted on family life. It has been time consuming but also necessary. I have enjoyed writing about the feelings we are going through and the enormous support we have received. The response has been totally unexpected – can I say I’ve gone viral?! Probably not but probably as viral as I’ll get.

I had a good chat with my dad this week. I popped to my parent’s house after work on Thursday, before returning for the year 5 and 6 Hallowe’en party. My mam wasn’t in so dad made me a cuppa and we sat in the kitchen while he cooked and we talked. My dad is 69, a retired sheet metal worker. He had the chance to either study art at college or take an apprentice in sheet metal work when he was fifteen. The option of perhaps a secure future in teaching or a future dependent upon contracts coming in to keep the workforce in work. Dad chose the latter. We, his four children, never knew when things were tough, when his job was under threat. Our parents sheltered us from that. Our parents must have faced uncertainty. Dad must have taken jobs that didn’t pay as well as the last. He was never out of work, always moving jobs if there was the threat of redundancy looming. Dad did have prosperous times working away on the rigs and involved in the building of Hartlepool power station. This afforded us a couple of foreign holidays when I was just a baby. On the whole we had a modest upbringing but never felt as though we went without. There are four of us so we were used to sharing and having things passed down. Just like our daughters now. The benefits of having a big family, for me, outweigh the fact we might have had more money for buying material items if there had been less of us! We didn’t miss stuff. We had each other and I would not trade that for anything. Our parents instilled in us a strong work ethic and we all went on to further education and now all work in the education system. Gemma, my eldest sister, is a ballet teacher in Boston, USA. My brother, Greg, is a teacher in Devon and my sister, Madeleine is a teacher in Sunderland. I did not originally work in education but it is where I have ended up and where I have been happiest. My mam was the secretary in our primary school. Education must be in the blood. Maybe, one day, I’ll take the plunge and do my teaching qualification but right now my job fits perfectly around my family.

So back to my chat with Dad. I’ve previously stated that I’m not really politically motivated. However, writing this blog has awakened me in a passion for politics that I didn’t know was in me. I want to know more. Jeremy Corbyn interests me. He’s different. I don’t know, yet, if it’s a good different but I intend to find out more. My dad likes Corbyn but is unsure his ideals are possible in today’s society. My dad remembers a time when trade unions had huge power and thinks that power was sometimes abused by those at the top. He can see some of the failings that brought about the closure of the shipyards and mines but doesn’t believe it is the best thing for England and its infrastructure to have other countries producing goods and running our industries. This takes work away from our nation, it impacts financially on so many families, the emotional impact cannot be costed when someone’s livelihood is taken away. The steel industry has been removed, our income has been significantly diminished and the stress this has put on to our family cannot be discounted.

I feel as though the current government have left us high and dry. It’s sickening to see David Cameron wining and dining the Chinese President while people are struggling to make ends meet. I cannot understand why he has allowed this to happen. I can only assume that he does not care about us and is more motivated by money than the welfare of the nation he governs. How many millions has been spent on this visit that could be used to pay for retraining? If someone reading this knows how Paul can get funding to retrain please, please contact me.

I dread to think how some families are coping right now. Christmas is round the corner or rather right in our faces every time we turn the TV on or go into a shop. This was to be the first Christmas in three years that Paul was off work, the first time Paul would see the girls on Christmas morning opening their gifts together. We hope he’ll be with us this year but that depends whether a new job would expect him to work on Christmas day. However, we’d rather he had a job than be off for Christmas! The fact we live with Paul’s parents means the pressure of mortgage and bill payments is eased and we know we will not lose our house. Other families must be facing the uncertainty now that they could lose their homes. Those in rented accommodation must be struggling to meet their rental payments. If they had received their notice and consultation period payments then maybe the pressure would have been eased for a couple of months. However they were not given a buffer and with no more wages coming in obtaining a job is imperative. I am just thankful we have a roof over our heads and a couple of prospects of employment on the table.

We will enjoy a family Christmas. Perhaps there will be less spent on gifts or Christmas outings. That doesn’t matter, just as it didn’t matter when I was a child. Christmas was just always fabulous no matter what. My parent’s made it magical, not with hundreds of pounds spent on expensive gifts, but just with lots of excitement, fun and love. I hope our Christmas reflects those times.

Past, Present and Future

Question Time

It’s three weeks since the announcement that SSI was to be mothballed. Three weeks ago we had hope. Faith that the steelmaking industry on Teesside would recommence in the future and that just maybe Paul and his colleagues would be able to return to a job they loved. We believed the government would help. It could not allow another world renowned British industry to die. It would not let that happen again…surely?
We had hope that if the worst did happen the steelworker’s would be treated respectfully, thanked for their commitment to a hazardous, arduous job and ensured they would not suffer a crippling financial impact. Maybe we were naive – we’d never been in this position before. We’d never depended on the government before. Maybe we were stupid, crazy, mad to imagine the government would step in. We did not expect them to keep SSI in full production when the price of steel was so low and China producing so much. All we wanted was for the government to recognise this 170 year old industry could not just be snuffed out in a matter of days. There has been no attempt to keep the coke ovens burning. No time given for plans to be made. The government did not want to help us or the thousands more at Redcar. We were disposable, a blight on the landscape that needed shifting. We don’t know why. Fracking? Housing? Who knows what will become of the SSI site but one thing is for certain steelmaking on Teeside is over.
The situation with China and the building of the nuclear power station in Hinckley confuses me. I would like the Prime Minister to explain, in simple terms, why he is hoping to strike a deal with the Chinese to build the power station. Surely steel will be needed? I can only assume that steel will come from China. Maybe I am wrong but anyway I would like to know. Something has gone sadly wrong when we cannot use our own workforce and our own materials to build our own future.
Three weeks on and Paul is still unemployed. He has had further success in his assessments for Network Rail and we hope the next stage will be an interview. He is still waiting to hear back from several other applications but so far the outcome is pretty positive and I can’t imagine his unemployment status will last for much longer.
Paul received his redundancy on Saturday. A whole £1783! Less than a months wage. This amount included two days holiday and two days wages. It did not include the extra shifts he worked for which he was owed four days leave! We are still unaware of what has happened to his pension payments and whether they will ever be recovered. Another thing we are extremely keen to know is where the money for training is and how it can be accessed! Nobody knows. It’s a complete mystery. Please Mr Cameron can you or one of your advisors please let us know where the £80m is?
Family life continues as normal, just with Paul around the house much more. I used to look forward to his nightshifts when I would get the bed to myself! The girls keep us busy and have little idea of what is going on. They do not need to know the stress we are both under, they are too young, and we are grateful for that. One day we will tell them about the time they were on the news and why. For now, though, our priority is to maintain as normal a life as possible and wait for some good news to come our way.

Question Time

Paul’s Progress

Paul is keeping his options open regarding his future employment. At the moment he is applying for jobs that he feels he has the skills and experience for. However, if he doesn’t have success soon he’ll just have to try and pick up work where he can.
Paul is also considering re-training altogether and perhaps carving a future out as a gas engineer. On Tuesday a training provider visited us at home. We expected a quick 20 minute meeting but it lasted for nearly two hours – complete with DVD! Paul would be able to fit training around any other commitments and at the end of two years be a fully qualified gas engineer. The benefits of this is that he would be self-employed. Given the current uncertainty we face, it would actually be quite comforting to know that we would be self sufficient, self reliant and could never be punished for the failure of others again. The downside of re-training is the cost. Paul is now in receipt of £146 per fortnight. The training would cost £35 per week. If this is what he truly wants to do then we will make it happen but if he gets a new job whilst training I’ll be worried that he has taken too much on. It sounds great, fitting training around work but throw in the ups and downs of family life it really isn’t that easy. For the time being we are keeping our options open.
Network Rail have been in touch and informed Paul that he is through to the next stage of application. He now has to pass an online assessment to take him through to the interview stage. The job would involve maintaining the railway lines in the North East and Paul imagines he would enjoy this hands on/outdoors type of work.
D-shift met up in Redcar yesterday for a few (many) drinks. Paul made his way down by train and, after his photoshoot for The Telegraph. he met up with his mates in the pub. Surprisingly they were all in good spirits and just enjoyed each others company for what will probably be the last time. At the moment Paul feels as though he’s on his 18 days off and can’t quite comprehend that he won’t be seeing the lads at work again soon. None of them have secured jobs yet. Billy is through to the next stage of application to be an undertaker. Eddy is considering a career as a driving instructor. Scott’s wife, Kayleigh, returned to work ten days after giving birth to Poppy. Ten days! Unfortunately she had no other option. People are resilient and faced with adversity do what they need to do in order to survive. These men have skills, experience and a strong work ethic. They are going from a job they loved in to the unknown, looking for anything that will bring in money, pay their bills and keep their families afloat. Until they find work they are dependent on their partner’s, which, in itself cannot be easy to accept. I hope Paul can find as much fulfilment in the future as he found working with these men over the last four years.
So it’s the weekend again and this one is going to be just as busy as the rest. My oldest friend, Vicky, gets married tomorrow so we are looking forward to a child-free day, a few drinks, a dance and a chance to enjoy ourselves without thinking about SSI, redundancy and application forms. It’s not so long since Zach’s wedding, yet all of our lives have changed and adjustments are being made. I hope we are not treading the path of uncertainty for too long.

Paul’s Progress

Goals

Yesterday was the most surreal day of my life. I’ve always looked out for myself on Match of the Day, jumping up when Sunderland score. I saw myself once. My friend Gerard and I were sat right behind the goal in the North Stand for the local derby match against Newcastle. I can’t remember who scored but it was a peach! Later that evening Gerard and I could be clearly seen diving around in celebration in front of the cameras. Is there any better feeling in the world?? Well maybe seeing your child enter the world comes close!
I never imagined, when I started to write, that my family and I would end up featuring on the national news. As I sit here, Coronation Street on in the background, onesie on, girls in bed, Paul out, it’s hard to believe that cameras and reporters were in our home last night, recording our story.
As normal, yesterday morning, I went to work but I felt unsettled all day – nervous. It’s a peculiar feeling knowing people are getting a real insight in to our lives. However, I believe it is important to be able to put a face to the numbers of people this situation is affecting.
I was expecting ITV news to arrive at 5pm and before that a reporter for the Telegraph also wanted to speak to us. I had also signed up to a stay and play session at Honor’s nursery over my lunch hour and my boss, Jan, kindly gave me the time to attend. I rarely get to visit Honor’s school and often feel like I am missing out on meeting other parents and knowing how Honor is getting on there. However, Paul has been lucky enough to be able to take her regularly and he keeps me updated on what is going on. Coincidentally Paul’s two best friends, Ernie and David, also have their children in Honor’s class. The three of them used to be in a band, with Paul as the drummer. Music is another passion of Paul’s but with shift work, wives and kids the band has taken a backseat over the last few years. Barry, Paul’s dad, has recently purchased a huge shed and is in the process of making it into a band practise den. I hope the boys get back into it. They’re actually pretty good and it’s good for them to have a bit of boys time away from the stresses and strains of family life! Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Honor at nursery. She is doing really well and loved showing me round all the different play areas. It was just lovely to see and a special, family moment amidst a rather unusual day.
After school I headed home and hastily changed my clothes, hoping I would look sort of OK on camera! First off, Alistair, arrived with his camera and microphone. Alistair was lovely, and immediately put me at ease. He interviewed me first, then Paul,then photographed us. As Alistair was finishing off the ITV News crew turned up and things started to become more daunting! Dan Rivers was in our home. A recognisable face and an even more recognisable voice. The crew were great and, again, made me feel completely at ease. Dan interviewed me, then took shots of us, as a family and we finished off at Sunderland Illuminations!
I didn’t set out to court media attention, but the public have become interested in our story. It’s become more of a duty, a campaign, to raise awareness of how redundancy impacts on family life. Whether it makes a difference remains to be seen but at least I know we have done our best to get the message across about how ordinary people struggle against obstacles life can throw in our path.
We featured on the ITV News at 10. The piece focused on the difficulties we, and hundreds of others, are facing right now. I struggled to watch the feature, hating the way I look and sound on camera! I was really proud if Paul as he is so much quieter than me but he came over really well.
Life is going to be tough for a while but things won’t always be like this. Paul is starting to hear back from potential employers and that’s a good sign. Hopefully interviews will soon start and life will get back to some sort of normality. I can’t wait for the day when he hears he’s successfully secured employment. The feeling that will give us is sure to surpass any derby day winning goal. Of course a derby day win next Sunday and a new job secured could make for possibly one of the best weeks ever! Ha’way!

Goals

Billy

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.

Billy