Hundreds of former Wrightbus employees have taken part in a protest outside a church linked to one of the owners – after the company went into administration.
Green Pastures church in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, received around £15million in recent donations from from the firm, most of which were made when the Co Antrim bus manufacturer was profitable.
Jeff Wright, the firm’s majority shareholder, is also a pastor at the church, the BBC reported.
Around 1,200 people lost their jobs when Wrightbus entered administration last week, in what was a huge blow for one of Northern Ireland’s biggest employers.
Hundreds of former Wrightbus employees have taken part in a protest outside the Green Pastures church in Ballymena, Northern Ireland
At least 500 protesters gathered in what was said to be a non-violent demonstration outside the church on Sunday.
Founder Sir William Wright received applause from the protesters as he arrived to the Ballymena church for the Sunday service.
Among those protesting outside was his granddaughter, Fiona Knowles.
She said: ‘Our family has been destroyed by this and it could have been avoided.
‘It is hard to watch, when you watch your granddad who has built this place up since he was 16, to have it destroyed, it is very hard to watch.
‘I know the hurt and loss and it is the hopelessness that gets you, I wanted to show my support here.’
The church received around £15million in recent donations from from the firm, most of which were made when the Co Antrim bus manufacturer was profitable
Andrew French, 34, from nearby Ahoghill, had worked at the plant for 18 years. His father spent 43 years there and his sister was also an employee.
He said: ‘Every single one of us feels let down. Is Christmas going to have to be cancelled?
‘This is all I know, I have been in here since I left school. Eighteen years service for what, statutory redundancy which you cannot get for 10 weeks?
‘It is an awful situation to be in.’
Later, Jeff Wright addressed the congregation at the Green Pastures. He said he had not spoken out before for fear of jeopardising delicate negotiations aimed at saving the firm.
Founder Sir William Wright (pictured) was said to have received applause from the workers as he arrived
He added that ‘it is a difficult day, it is a sad day’, as he thanked the congregation for all the messages of support.
Wrightbus had a reputation for building ultra low emissions buses including London’s Routemaster double decker when Boris Johnson was mayor.
It went into administration last week following cash flow problems and the failure to find a new owner.
The firm’s most recent accounts showed it made a £1.7million loss last year on a turnover of around £227million.
Mr Wright displayed a photo of the Wright family 60 years ago with a blue bus.
‘This picture represents the heart and soul of what it takes to make a good company a great company,’ he said.
He added that he had fought for the firm since he was a 19-year-old apprentice, learning under great tradesmen to build the company up.
‘We went from crisis to crisis, from when we made money and lost money, but we always tried to keep our quality and integrity as we went,’ he said.
He said his own son, the fourth generation of Wright, had lost his inheritance along with his sisters and their children along with the hundreds of men he had worked, played football and prayed with.
‘This is not my church, this is these people’s church, they own this church.’
Around 1,200 people lost their jobs when Wrightbus entered administration last week
The firm’s most recent accounts showed it made a £1.7million loss last year on a turnover of around £227million
After the service, company founder William Wright met some of the men standing outside and said: ‘I am sorry folks, hopefully everything will work out.’
Jeff Wright disclosed that £20million of reserves had been spent on the company over the last year in an effort to keep it in operation until a buyer could be found.
Mr Wright said a lot of people scared about the future.
‘They don’t know what way to turn, so we must be mindful of that. I won’t jeopardise the future so I can look good,’ he said.
‘I am so sorry that this church has to go through what they went through, I never thought this would happen.’
The company built London’s distinctive red double decker Routemaster buses when Boris Johnson was mayor of the capital.
Mr Johnson described it as a ‘stunning piece of automotive architecture’ and they were quickly dubbed the ‘Boris bus’.
Jeff Wright disclosed that £20million of reserves had been spent on the company over the last year in an effort to keep it in operation until a buyer could be found