Hands of Redcar: Stories from the steel town


BBC Panorama is in Redcar to find out how the town is coping after the closure of the SSI steel plant and what the impact has been on the people of the area. The series ‪#‎HandsOfRedcar‬ shares personal stories from those affected.

Kay, 48: "The only woman in the workshop. But now I'm just a statistic"

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Kay was the only woman at the workshop

"The men were a bit embarrassed about swearing in front of me at first, but then they got to know me and I was just one of the gang. Some of them had been there for 30 odd years and they'd listen to me and respect me.

"I'd been a bit low on confidence and I'd started wondering where I was going, I think I found this place and we both needed each other at the same time. I made some really good friends, it was like our community really. People either came and went in six months or they stayed for life and if it was still there I'd have been a lifer.

"I feel like I've lost my identity. In the workshops I was at the centre of a lot of things. I'd deal with the blast furnace and coke ovens and I was Kay Wilson, the only woman in the workshop. But now I'm just a statistic, just a number thrown on the scrapheap. You're gone, you're nothing. Lost.

"I started working there seven-and-a-half years ago in the garage. The first day was quite intimidating you know, the size of the vehicles, the wheels on some of the forklifts were taller and wider than me. Seeing the sheer size of the things and the amount of noise and dust on the site, that was quite an eye-opener.

"Going in on the Monday after it went into liquidation I was really tearful because I thought this is probably the last time I'll ever come in here.

"You didn't know what was going to happen - if you had a job, if you'd get that month's pay. We were there for about an hour or so then got told to collect your stuff and go home, they'll contact you if they need you.

"People were just wandering around and didn't know what to do with themselves. Some people had to work three hours before they found out if they had a job or not. It was carnage.

"When you see the blast furnace it looks a big, ugly building churning out smoke and you see Steel House - that big, horrible building. But it's the people who made it, the characters there.

"We were quite a few misfits and oddballs but it was what we cared about. It was in our blood and it made you feel part of something special. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

Ernie, 83: "They call people lazy if they're not working but there's no work to go to"

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Ernie has lived in Redcar for 47 years

"I was a 'sailorman' as they call it when I worked - doing all the heavy lifting. It was one of these places where you had to put as many hours in as you could, to get a living wage. I used to work anything from 60 to 80 hours a week.

"I'm very proud of Redcar and I've lived here the same as my friend Les for 47 years. We must have moved around the same time. It's near the sea and I've always liked the sea.

"The seafront was rundown and now it's been rebuilt. It's a lovely seafront now. All the people come from round about just to sit on the seafront. Come down on a summer's day and you'll see them all eating their fish and chips and their ice creams - doesn't matter where you look.

"But the closure will have a bad impact. Something has to be done, we need more work in the area. We need to get work in for these people. You can't close everything down and then turn around and say they're all lazy, which people seem to do.

"They call people lazy if they're not working, but there's no work to go to. If there was, everything would be fine."

John, 46: "Christmas will be low budget this year. I've told my family not to buy me any presents"

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John worked at the SSI plant

"We knew the company were having financial problems because obviously when you're on the inside you hear rumours, they haven't paid for this, they haven't paid for that.

"It's tough being made redundant from something like that once but when it happens twice it's worse. I don't know if it was a shock or not. I don't know if it's really sunk in yet. I've just been getting my normal wage, I just haven't been going to work.

"So I think in a couple of weeks' time when no money goes into my bank I'll think, right, that's it, it's over. That might be when it hits me.

"My final pay was Bonfire Night. It's like a smack of reality, isn't it? Final pay cheque from working for them. This weekend I'll be officially unemployed and doing something I haven't done in a long, long time and making a claim for benefits.

"I've made a few cutbacks already. I've cancelled my sports package (on Sky) which I'm not happy about - I like football, rugby league and the golf majors. I'm an Everton Football Club fan - a proper Scouser!

"I've had to drop the contents insurance on the house and the boiler cover because I just had to make a couple of hundred pounds of cutbacks to survive the next few months.

"I'm not born and bred a Teessider but I feel like a Teessider. I've spent the majority of my life up here - they're lovely people.

"If you walk down the street, every single person will know someone who's been affected by this SSI closure because it's only a small town.

"There was talk about my shift having a Christmas drink in December. Hopefully we'll get together for a final farewell and keep in touch.

"Christmas will be low budget this year. I've told my family not to buy me any presents, I'm too old for them anyway. We'll just have a meal, get together, sing some songs and play some games.

"I was scheduled to be at work on Christmas Day so I joke that at least I'll be here."

From now until Christmas, Panorama will be in Redcar. You can follow this story by liking our Facebook page, following 'bbcpanorama' on Snapchat,

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