CHURCH leaders in South Wales have warned that the closure of the Ford engine plant at Bridgend is a disaster that could potentially affect a much wider area. They have called on the Government to intervene to save the 1700 jobs that will go when the factory shuts next year.
“Our communities have already suffered enough with the mine closures and other manufacturing industries disappearing,” Jon Durley, a community outreach officer based in the town, said. “It is hard to see how we can recover from this. While this has not come as a surprise, as there has been speculation for some time on the street that this could happen, we all had hoped and prayed it would not come to this. This is such a tragedy, and it is yet another message of abandonment. Many of those living in my community are going to feel the impact of this greatly.
“The closure is devastating not only for Bridgend, but also the wider South Wales region, from Newport to Llanelli. It has been one of the most significant employers in the region for nearly 40 years, and its closure is going to have an impact not just on the workers at the car plant, but also those who are employed in the supply chain: the plant is thought to be worth £3 billion to the local economy.
“Those who have been employed by Bridgend Ford are highly skilled; so [they] have skills to contribute to industry in another work context. But with such skills they could also be employed in many locations; but life is not just about work/employment, it is about relationships, family, partners, and parents; so changing contexts may be difficult.
“The Government needs to intervene and seek partners, including the Church — who also possesses skills in its body — to move forward and assist those industries which are crumbling, but may need pastoral support.”
In a statement, the Assistant Curate of Coity, Nolton and Brackla with Coychurch, in Bridgend, the Revd Mark Broadway, said: “We stand with those who are to lose their livelihoods. Work is central to so many of our lives, not only in so far as it provides an opportunity to provide for the needs of each worker and their families, but also in the value and worth that many find through work.
“We will, of course, be praying for those who are to lose their employment, and their families, but we will also seek to provide practical support to those in need. We already assist a — sadly growing — number of people in and around Bridgend who find themselves on hard times, whether through the foodbank, our homelessness cafes, or a range of outreach projects.
“If anyone wants to reach out for practical or spiritual support, the Church is here to offer the compassion which Jesus himself offers each one of us. We prayerfully support and encourage efforts to regenerate employment opportunities in the town.”
The Vicar, the Revd Maggie Thorne, who took up her post this week, has composed a prayer to support the townspeople: “God our Father, who always desires the best for his beloved children, we ask your particular help for those affected by the announcement of the closure of the Ford plant in Bridgend: those who are concerned about meeting their domestic and financial commitments; those who fear that they may never find employment again; and those who fear a loss of purpose.
“We ask that this ending will be a prelude to fresh hope, new possibilities, and new beginnings which will far exceed expectations.
“Grant each employee your grace to meet the days ahead with courage and optimism, trusting that they are safe in your hands and so all will be well. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is able to do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us. Amen.”
Len Jones, aged 48, a worker at the plant for almost eight years, said: “I feel devastated. We all expected it, but not so soon. We have been told that there will be support, but we don’t know what that means. There is anger, there is disappointment. I feel massively let down.” He said that he had no idea what he was going to do next.
The Welsh First Minister, Mark Drakeford, is hoping to persuade Ford to change its mind during the forthcoming consultation period. He said: “That must be genuine. They must allow the union and the Welsh government to make the case for continuing work at Ford Bridgend. The Welsh government will be making the case that, if the existing business is not sustainable, they will be putting forward alternatives.”
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), which speaks for many of the firms in the local supply chain, called on the Welsh and UK governments to come up with a plan. The head of external affairs for FSB Wales, Ben Cottam, said that the closure would have a big impact on smaller businesses.
“What we need to do now is identify those businesses, understand how they’re affected; and I think we want to see support from government, both in Cardiff Bay and in Westminster to support them to diversify, to re-skill, and to look for new opportunities.
“We need to understand what a post-Ford Bridgend looks like. This is a town and a region that has really depended on the presence of a very large employer; so we need to look at how we diversify that economy and create new opportunities.”
The Welsh Assembly minister for economy and transport, Ken Skates, said that he had begun the process of establishing a taskforce “to work with partners over the difficult weeks and months ahead to help find a sustainable, long-term solution for the plant and its workforce.
“I call on the UK Government to now step up to support the automotive sector through its UK Industrial Strategy, to help secure the long-term future of this vital industry in the UK through R&D and investment in skills.”