The town fighting the Ford factory closure

By Laura Heighton-Ginns & Katie Prescott
Business reporters

media captionBridgend's male choir sing the Welsh national anthem outside Ford's UK headquarters

It was a uniquely Welsh protest - 55 members of the Bridgend male voice choir stood out in front of Ford's headquarters in Essex, belting out the Welsh national anthem "Land of My Fathers" beneath a Welsh flag waving in the wind.

They were making a stand against the closure of the car manufacturer's engine factory in Bridgend, which will see the loss of 1,700 jobs.

"I think we are a nation that love a bit of nostalgia, but it was meant as a sincere protest," says the choir's chairman Gareth Davies.

The group meets weekly, and was formed almost 60 years ago. A number of attendees formerly worked at "Fords", as they refer to it.

Since the protest, a video of it has gone viral, with tens of thousands of views - including on the plant shop floor.

Jason Evans has been a Ford assembly worker for 10 years.

"They were playing it in the plant. People were coming over to me saying, 'have you seen the video, have you seen the video?'"

Workers come from all over South Wales for the highly paid and highly skilled jobs in the Ford factory - jobs that aren't easily replaced.

Since the announcement, "it's like working under a dark cloud," he says.

image captionJason Evans works as an assembly worker at the Bridgend Ford plant

Unite represents the majority of the plant employees. Bryan Godsell, officer for the union, says that workers feel betrayed by Ford.

They've rejected the closure proposal on offer - including a redundancy package of early pension access, a cash payment and continuity payments.

The union is willing to pull any levers it can to keep at least some jobs here.

"What the company needs to understand is that there's a national policy within Unite and our sister unions," says Mr Godsell.

He thinks this could escalate to an industrial action ballot across all Ford UK plants.

"Ford like to talk about the Ford family. Well, Ford workers look after each other."

He adds: "We're Welsh, we're proud of the work we do."

Dedicated taskforce

A taskforce has now been set up to look at ensuring the economic survival of the area. It pulls together Welsh government, Ford and the unions.

One of the leaders is the former Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones, who has represented Bridgend for more than 20 years.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionCarwyn Jones AM, former First Minister of Wales, grew up in Bridgend

He thinks about 400 staff will retire, and others will go to Aston Martin, which is advertising 500 jobs only 10 miles away in St Athan. But that still leaves 800 workers without jobs.

He wants to see Ford provide compensation comparable to what they agreed for Bordeaux workers earlier this year.

"They produced a significant support package, about €100m (£89.6m) I think - so we'd look for Ford to provide similar here."

Communication, though, seems to have broken down.

"There was no discussion beforehand to see if anything could be done to avoid a closure," he says. "They seem not to want to communicate."

The politician talks as though lamenting the end of a relationship.

"There was always someone they could contact, if there was a problem they'd see a minister, no problem."

It could make for a tense meeting when the Welsh government, Unite and Ford sit around the table for taskforce talks.

The Welsh government has promised to do whatever it takes to secure jobs that are as skilled and as well-paid as those at Ford - including through financial incentives.

Carwyn Jones says some people have already approached the government, because the rail-connected plant and workforce are so attractive.

Community impact

For many people here, the planned plant closure is still an abstract concept.

Beth Daniel owns a hair salon in the centre of town, and business is booming.

A customer settles a bill as another waits to book an appointment, while the phone rings as customers call to book appointments too.

"Everybody has been talking about it, but I don't think it's going to have a huge impact on the town centre," says Beth.

But as she speaks, the radio on the counter is playing an advert for services to help people into work.

The Ford announcement isn't the first such bad news the town has had in recent years. A number of big employers have left the area, taking skilled jobs with them.

image captionPhil Lewis has been running a shop on Bridgend Industrial Estate for 30 years

Phil Lewis runs a cafe next to the Ford factory complex. He lists off the names of firms that have left.

"If we roll the clock back, Sony were here, Diaplastics were here, Smith Kendon were here. The last one standing is Fords," he says.

Phil's popular shop is a newsagent and cafe combined, but people also seem to visit just to seek Phil out for a chat.

The waitress says she can check if he's available to speak to us too, adding, "he's a lovely manager".

But it's hard to see how the cafe will continue to thrive if Ford leaves - along with its social element, which can't be accounted for in economic terms.

For Gareth Davies, the Ford plant is "a big thing in our social history."

It's perhaps this notion, as much as anything else, that compelled the Bridgend male choir to make their voices heard.

Related Topics

More on this story