The SSI Wife – the steel crisis hits home

BEHIND the political mudslinging are real people whose lives have been devastated by the closure of the SSI steel plant in Redcar. Throughout October Anna Maven from Sunderland has blogged about the impact it has had on her family since her husband Paul lost his job.

Her raw, honest posts chronicling the highs and lows this month have attracted national media attention.  This is what’s happpened so far but to keep up with the story and support Anna visit her beautifully written blog http://www.steelworkerswifeblog.wordpress.com

She is also Tweeting @ssi_wife and she is on Facebook – The SSI Wife

THIS IS US….
October 4, 2015
So, I have wanted to try blogging for some time but where to start? The blogs I have read tend to be people detailing their exciting gap years in South East Asia, or others mapping the lives of their newborn children.

What have I got to blog about? Well nothing earth shatteringly amazing but big changes are happening in my life right now and I thought, “why don’t I document them?”

Maybe it’ll help to write things down or maybe other wives in the same position as me will be able to relate, or perhaps nobody will even read it at all.

Before I go on I shall introduce myself. My name is Anna. I’m married to Paul and we have two daughter, Honor, four, and Monica, two. We live in Sunderland, England near the sea and The Stadium of Light (we are big football fans).

Paul and I met nearly six-years-ago and married 13 months later. Nine months after that Honor came along. We found out I was pregnant on the last night of our honeymoon in Thailand.

Twenty months after Honor, Monica joined us. The last 6 years have been hectic, sometimes manic and tiredness is now a natural state for Paul and I! Last week Paul was made redundant and that’s the basis for my blog. I hope you enjoy getting to know us!

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FAMILY: Anna and Paul Maven with daughters Honor, four, and Monica, two.

 

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A STEELWORKERS WIFE
October 4, 2015

This time last week we were happily celebrating Honor’s 4th birthday with the family. She’d had a great few days opening presents and eating cake! Little did we know the turn of events that would begin on Monday 28th September and the rollercoaster ride we were about to board.

Paul works(ed) shifts and he was off last week until Thursday. I went to work as normal on Monday. (I’m a full time teaching assistant in a local junior school).

At lunchtime I received a text from Paul to say SSI was closing down. You will probably have seen SSI in the news, if, unlike me, you get the chance to watch it! We knew things weren’t great but Paul had an optimistic view and he believed that SSI would sort things out so that the steel plant could remain open – even if it did mean half pay for three months or so.

Paul has dedicated the last 14 years of his life to working on Teesside, the last four of them at SSI. He has committed to a seventy mile, or thereabouts, round trip every time he has journeyed to work.

Yes, the money has been good and the shifts have worked well for us with our young family but Paul has put the graft in and shown real commitment to the industry on Teesside.

Anyway, getting back to the text message…….I rushed in to the TA office and rang Paul immediately. He had been watching Sky News at home when the report came through that SSI was to be mothballed.
Suddenly all of Paul’s optimism was blown out the window.

It dawned on us, there and then, he was one of the 1,700 men who would lose their jobs that week. The thought of Paul not working and the loss of money hit me and the tears sprung……what would we do? How will we cope?

Questions came and went….there were no answers. The lads had very little understanding of what was happening other than what they were hearing in the news.
My colleague, Margaret, came in to the office and offered some comforting words and most importantly a nice cup of tea – how very English!

In a daze, I had to go back in to class and carry on working, whilst my head was full of questions that I needed answering. (My head is still full of questions that need answering!).

I usually go to a Boogie Bounce class and then to choir practice straight from school on a Monday, but last Monday, 28th September, I just needed to get home to my family. So that is what I did. No matter how down I’m feeling my family can cheer me up. The girls aren’t aware of what is happening, they are too young.
We can’t live on my wage alone – where do we go from here? (Just one of the questions floating through my brain at this point). As the week progressed it became apparent that there would be no good news. Paul was going to be unemployed no matter which way we looked at it.

D-SHIFT
October 4, 2015
Paul returned to work at SSI on Thursday 1st October as he had been advised by his bosses. After a few days at home watching the news he was ready to get back and see his mates on D-shift. The lads on D-shift are great.

Three weeks ago we spent the day with them at Zach and Kirsty’s amazing wedding in Stokesley. What a day and what a wedding! With us living all the way up on Wearside we don’t often get to socialise with the lads and wives but when we do we have an awesome time.

Zach, the youngest member on D-shift was kind enough (and brave enough – if you’ve ever met Benno you’ll know what I mean) to invite us along with four other couples and Benno.

Little did Zach know that when he returned from his Las Vegas and Dubai honeymoon that he would be faced with losing his job. Great start to married life, right?

I’m grateful that we didn’t know what was coming so that we could truly enjoy and celebrate such a special occasion without anything overshadowing it.

Paul couldn’t wait to see the lads on Thursday. They really do have a great bond and I’m not sure I can understand how close they are. Twelve hour shifts, I guess, do that to you. They’ve looked after Paul. He isn’t the most confident and outgoing person in the world and of course he’s a mackem (a Sunderland native) but despite all that they’ve taken him to their hearts and he loves them!

It’s done wonders for Paul’s confidence been selected from thousands of applicants to work at SSI and he is proud. A proud steelworker. A hard worker. A committed worker. If he finds a job with men as half as good as the lads on D-shift he will be a lucky man.

As expected, his return was emotional. The lads are gutted. Gutted they are losing their jobs. Gutted they are losing their mates. Gutted Redcar is losing it’s soul. Steel making is a way of life for many men and their families on Teeside. The heart of their community has been ripped out.

We know how it feels here in Sunderland having said goodbye to the heart of our industries over the years. Gone are the mines, gone are the shipyards and now gone is the steel. No amount of shiny, new call centres can ever replace this hardworking, salt of the earth industry. No wonder our towns and cities are dying and our young people have nothing to look up to and strive towards.

Paul and the D-shift lads will find work. They are skilled men – too good to be lining up in the Job Centre signing on week after week. The problem is 1,700 are now looking for work. Maybe Paul will be a lucky one and something up this way will crop up. He’d save around £300 a month in fuel costs alone if he could secure a job in Sunderland.

Paul returned home from work happier than I had seen him all week. Billy, John, Eddie and the rest of the lads had kept each other’s spirits up and made him feel there was still a fight to be fought and they would go down fighting. So for one night last week Paul seemed in good spirits. Unfortunately it wouldn’t last long.

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LOVE: Paul and daughter Honor Maven.

GAME OVER
October 5, 2015
As usual Paul’s alarm sounded at 4.45am for him to get up for work on Friday 2nd October. He always gets up this early even though his shift doesn’t officially start until 7am. The lads get in a bit earlier for each other so that they can get home sooner. Paul also has a 50 minute journey to work so leaves the house about 5.15am.

I went off to work as normal for a 7.45am start. At lunchtime Paul text me to say that SSI had been put into liquidation. Having bumped into a good friend in Sainsbury’s the previous evening I was prepared for this announcement, however not quite so soon.

My friend knew someone working in the finance department at SSI and from what she told me the news was never going to be good. Again I took myself off to call Paul in private. Despite the news of liquidation he remained incredibly upbeat. He was sure things were going to be OK. They had been told to continue coming to work, that the government were going to help with pay, redundancies and retraining.

I, however, had my reservations. In contrast to Paul’s optimism I felt that things were probably not going to go the way we hoped. Just before 5pm Paul called me again. I was just dropping Monica off at my mam’s so I could take Honor to her swimming lesson.

I answered the phone and all Paul said was, “game over”. In a nutshell all the workers on site had been told to clear out their lockers and leave the site. The end was more abrupt than the lads could have imagined. I think “shell-shocked” might be the most appropriate term to use to describe how Paul felt.

Gutted, disappointed, emotional and stunned are others. To date Paul has received no formal notification to say he has been made redundant. We are, at this time, in limbo. Where do we go from here?

MONDAY’S ARE THE BUSIEST!
October 5, 2015

Well how about the power of social media?! I’m quite amazed at the interest my blog has sparked. I started this blog to really try and make sense of what is happening to us and I was reluctant to share it at first.

These musings are my own personal thoughts and feelings as well as Paul’s and it feels strange that they have been made public but really wonderful to have received so much love and support over the last 24 hours. I was over the moon to receive a message from a long, lost friend today and then to top it off BBC Radio Tees want to interview me on air in the morning! Madness.

Monday’s, for me, are my busiest day of the week. I’m up and out early to run the breakfast club at school and I’m kept quite busy throughout the day doing teaching assistant type things. A colleague convinced me a few weeks ago to accompany her to Boogie Bounce after work one Monday afternoon. I agreed without really knowing what it entailed. As it turns out it’s an aerobic style class where all the exercise is carried out on your own individual trampoline.

This year I’ve been trying hard to lose a bit of weight and get fit and I’ve got to say Boogie Bounce is fitting quite well in to my regime. After this class I head straight off for choir practise. I’ve been singing with my choir for about six years. It is definitely true that music is good for the soul. We have a concert coming up so we are in the thick of things right now.

I arrived home after 9pm tonight. Both the girls are in bed (in fact I am too). Paul received his letter from work today to tell him not to come in and that there will be no redundancies paid by the company. He will now have to apply to the government for statutory redundancy. We have no idea how much he is likely to get or when he should expect to receive it. We doubt he will receive any money this month.

The letter told him to sign on and get to the Job Centre as soon as possible. This is difficult for Paul to deal with. He’s worked since leaving college and now, aged 35, he is being told to sign on through no fault of his own. He is dreading going to the job centre – anyone who has been in this position will know they are not the best places in which to hang out.

Paul is a family man first and foremost and he wants to provide for his family. Standing in the dole queue was never on his agenda. I know Paul will find work soon, but for the time being he needs time to come to terms with what has happened.

MEDIA, MONEY AND ME
October 6, 2015

The past 24 hours have been a bit of a whirlwind and I’m tired! I struggled to sleep thinking about the impending interview on BBC Tees this morning. When the call came through at 7am I was shaking with nerves and as soon as the interview finished I wasn’t sure what I’d really said! The feedback from friends and family has been good though and my main critic (mam) has approved!

At lunchtime I saw that ITV Tyne Tees had posted my blog on to their website and after work a photographer came round to take pictures of Paul and I to feature in the Northern Echo tomorrow!
Whilst all of this is exciting and daunting for me it is important to recognise why I began writing this blog.

Paul is unemployed. What does this mean for us as a family of four? Obviously the financial impact is the biggest worry. We have a house…a really small house bought at possibly the worst time to buy a house this century. So small, in fact, it was pretty much impossible to live in once Monica joined the clan.

Earlier this year we had our tiny house valued and it wasn’t worth what we’d paid for it. Having no savings we really needed to make money on the house to put a deposit down on something bigger. We did live, temporarily in Paul’s nana’s house and she moved into ours, to give us some much needed space for the girls.

Living there was great but we weren’t managing to really make any progress with saving due to mortgage and bill payments along with the rest of the expenditure that comes with a growing family. In May we decided to ask Paul’s parents if we could move in with them so that we could focus on saving for a deposit.

Living with them meant we could rent our little house out and bills would be covered by tenants. This would mean we could actually start to seriously make progress on finding a family home that could accommodate us nicely! So since May we have been trying to save and I expect these savings will now come in handy to cover the shortfall in wages that we will be facing until Paul is employed again.

We are lucky. I had a telephone call this week from the letting agent to tell me our tenants want to sign a further contract. This means our mortgage and bills will be paid for the next six months at least. We have a roof over our heads and know we can live here until we can eventually move on when things start improving.

Other families affected by the SSI closure may not be so lucky. They have mortgages and rent to pay not to mention all the other bills that we all face every month. One of Paul’s colleagues welcomed his new baby daughter in to the world on Friday as news of the liquidation broke. Imagine his emotions right now. Another met and married a girl who also worked for SSI – now they are both out of work. As I said, we are lucky.

Paul received a decent wage. Enough for us to have two (oldish) cars, holidays, swimming and football classes for the girls, days and nights out when we wanted too. On reflection life has been pretty good.

Tightening the purse strings is a necessity now and I can’t say I’m looking forward to it. Paul and I are good at spending! In fact I’m quite a pro. I’m going to have to learn to be a pro in thriftiness now and decide what is really necessary and what is not.

Our income will reduce by two-thirds. Paul will receive Job Seekers Allowance and we might be entitled to some financial support. I cancelled Honor’s swimming lessons today and we need to look at other ways to tighten our belts.

I hope those reading this can somehow sense the impact the SSI closure is having on ordinary, hardworking families. Paul is still struggling and I don’t think he will really feel normal until he is working again. Let’s hope it won’t take too long.

SISTERS: Anna Maven's daughters Honor and Monica.

SISTERS: Anna Maven’s daughters Honor and Monica.

PAUL
October 7, 2015

Paul is a quiet, gentle man. He always puts me and our children first – well apart from at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon!

With his SSI shift pattern he has been able to be around for Honor and Monica more than myself and manages so well entertaining them, taking them to where they need to be, caring for them and chastising them when needed.

The shifts he has worked for the past four years consist of two 12 hour days followed by two 12 hour nights followed by four days off. After seven sets of these shifts he had a period of eighteen days off. Of course I have ensured he spends his time off work wisely – mainly cooking, cleaning and shopping!

Actually he’s a dab hand in the kitchen and rustles up most of the meals we eat and provides me with a packed lunch most days. Obviously, at the moment, he has plenty of time on his hands in between job searching and submitting applications so I intend that he carries out a little bit of DIY (fitting the wall lamps in the girls’ bedroom primarily) and researching some new Slimming World meal ideas!

Paul is passionate about Sunderland AFC. He’s had a season ticket, along with his dad, for around 25 years. He’s endured a few ups and many downs in that time but is the type of stalwart the club depends on – there through thick and thin.

He loves match day, going for a couple of pre-match pints with his dad, Barry and mate Anth. Unfortunately, he mainly comes home in a rather fed up kind of mood, particularly at present. Given their passion, I’m yet to see them scream, shout or sing at the match. They just go to show their support, enjoy watching the beautiful game and rant.

I took Honor to her first match last season – a nil-4 drubbing by Aston Villa. She loved it! At half time I took her up to see her grandad only to find he’d left the ground disgusted by the teams performance! I was a season ticket holder up until Monica arrived so I doubt the girls will get away without being drawn in to the Sunderland AFC way of life (cruel but necessary in our family!).

Teesside is a second home to Paul. He’s worked there for 17 years, the last four at SSI. We’d talked about the idea of moving nearer to his work and liked the look of a few places like Stokesley and Yarm among others. It was probably a pipe dream as our lives are settled here in Sunderland, near to family and friends, but the thought has certainly crossed our minds more than once. Paul enjoys the odd Parmo – a Teesside delicacy that seems to be becoming a more regular feature on menus in Sunderland these days. He also has a slight Teesside/North Yorkshire twang to his speech that appears every so often, particularly when he’s had a few beers.

We found out Paul had got the job at SSI when Honor was only a couple of months old. The increase in salary was really going to make a big difference to our lives. Paul was over the moon to be selected as the competition for jobs was very high.

The success gave Paul a real confidence boost and a sense of achievement. It was the first time since the age of 18 he had changed jobs and he was immensely proud to be able to call himself a steelworker.
Losing his job has had a crushing effect on Paul. That might sound dramatic but it really has. He felt that this was his dream job and a job for life.

He’s gone from the breadwinner to signing on the dole within the space of a fortnight.

He’s gone from driving a 76 mile round trip four times a week to being at home 24/7. For a hardworking man, like my husband, it is hard for him to come to terms with. He’s really missing his workmates and the banter.

Although he loves us he’d far rather be spending his time providing a secure future for us than doing the school run and cooking the tea. His role as a husband and father is hugely important to him and to us – we couldn’t manage without him – but I want him to feel useful, worthwhile and happy again.

The future is uncertain but as I write, Paul is in the next room with his dad (a factory manager in Teesside) and they are searching for jobs, uploading his CV and doing what they can to make sure Paul’s unemployment status is for as short a time as possible.

PROGRESS
October 9, 2015
This morning Paul had his first appointment at Southwick Job Centre. He wasn’t relishing the thought of “signing on” for the first time in his life but it’s a necessity right now. He told me that the lady who helped him was great and had compassion for the situation he finds himself in.

He then took himself off to Steel House again. He enjoys the drive down and actually feels a pang of sadness that he won’t be doing it on a regular basis anymore. We often drive through Teesside over the A19 flyover. Paul always (and I near always) proudly points out his place of work to the girls. I usually comment something along the lines of, “you should have mentioned it before”, in a sarcastic tone. For that, I feel bad, because he was a proud steelworker and so he should be. It’s only these last couple of weeks that have made me begin to realise why he is so proud. Next time we journey through Middlesbrough and look out to Redcar it’ll be with sadness and nostalgia when he points out to the girls, “I used to work there”.

Whilst at Steel House Paul completed his redundancy forms and also bumped in to a couple of pals. I wonder what it must be like there, with no workers, just official looking people carrying out paperwork tasks?

The sounds and smells must have changed and I imagine it to be some sort of ghost town. I’ve only been on the site once to pick Paul up. It is vast – I couldn’t comprehend how big until I drove on to it. It’s another world, like driving through an industrial city. Paul tells me that there is no smoke emanating from the BOS Plant, in fact pigeons now inhabit the once bustling, noisy building. It shouldn’t be this way, the image is a sad reflection of all that has been lost. The jobs. The industry. The tradition.

This afternoon – some good news! Paul has passed the first stage of the Nissan application process. This is a real positive and at least proves that his CV and application have been good enough to get noticed. It’s a real confidence boost and if he does get a job at Nissan it would be a fabulous thing for him and our family. Paul is being proactive and putting everything in to his job search as well as all his house husband duties that I make sure keep him active! I think he definitely deserves a beer tonight.

So we have reached the end of another incredibly busy week for The Mavens. It’s been emotional, educational and positive in many ways. I have learnt a bit more about steelmaking, politics and tweeting, though I’m still no expert. I’ve met and spoken to some really understanding, compassionate journalists (yes they do exist!) who are helping to get our story out there.

I’ve had some lovely messages from other SSI wives and from people who have gone through similar situations offering their support. Life is as hectic as ever. The girls are sheltered from what’s happening and that’s the way it should be, so for them life goes on normally.

Tonight I’m going to go to my friend Gemma’s house and drink wine, laugh and gossip. Tomorrow we’ve got a party and a meal out, that I won on Facebook, to look forward to. We might even fit in a trip to the Sunderland Illuminations and enjoy some quality family time. Maybe this time next week Paul will have had more good news from his applications. Here’s hoping.

(just as I was about to post this Paul shouted through for me to come and see the news. We’ll at least someone found work today. Welcome to Wearside Sam Allerdyce!).

FRIENDS
October 11, 2015
Today has been a pretty standard Sunday. It started off, as usual, with a trip to mass at St. Joseph’s, Millfield. I was born and brought up in the parish of St. Joseph’s, as was my mam and hers before that.

You could say it’s our home. It’s where we belong. Paul became part of the community not long after we were married and the girls were baptised there soon after their births. We receive great support from the church, our girls are very much loved there and we enjoy meeting up with friends and family thee every week.

Usually we go back to my mam’s house after mass, for coffee and a chat, but this week we had Carter’s birthday party to attend. Carter is the son of our friends Helen and Stephen and today he was three. I went to school with Helen and I’m lucky enough to still have a really close group of school friends around me today. Despite all of us having busy lives, with working and children, we try our best to meet up every so often and with ten children between us there’s always a birthday party not too far away.

Today was unusual in that all of our husbands were with us. We usually struggle to get together, as couples, because of our men working shifts or working away. Paul wasn’t going to stay at the party (he had Sunday lunch to prepare) but when he saw Stephen, George, Matthew and Kevin he decided to stay for a bit of craic with the lads. They know what it is like to work under the threat of redundancy and are a good source of support to Paul.

My friends are hugely important to me. I’m lucky enough that I have a really strong network of friends from school, university, work and elsewhere. Rachel and George offered us the use of their lodge in the Lake District over the half term holiday today. They don’t know what a gesture like that means to us.

Weekends away, day trips out, holidays will have to be put on the back burner for a while and to be offered the chance to escape for a few days, just the four of us, is overwhelming. It’s not the first time they have done this for us and we are truly grateful. The only snag is that it’s derby day when we are going so I hope the journey is a happy one and we are singing, “six in a row!”. We love the Lake District and the lodge is the perfect place from which to explore and in which we can relax. I can’t wait to get back there. Thank you Rachel and George!

The girls fell asleep on the way home, exhausted by the soft play. Their afternoon nap means they’ll be up later tonight which will hopefully will result in a lie in for Paul in the morning. I’ll be up and out early to commence my working week but before I know it it will be Friday again and it’s only two weeks until half term!

It’s a short one tonight as Paul needs some help with application forms so that’s where I need to be. It’s at times like this when you really do need the support of others and I’m happy and honoured to have such a strong network around us. Thank you everyone.

BREAK: Paul and daughter Honor in the Lake District this week.

BREAK: Paul and daughter Honor in the Lake District this week.

HOPE FADES
October 12, 2015

This steel stuff has really got under my skin! A dormant passion,I didn’t know I possessed, has been ignited. Maybe this is what happens when someone you love loses something they love. Who knows?

On leaving work today I received the news from Paul that Redcar Steel Plant was indeed going to be closed down: not mothballed as hoped, but closed. For good. The end. The end of steelmaking on Teesside. The end of tradition. The end of hope.

It isn’t the first time industry has been destroyed in the North East of England. Remember the shipyards? The mines? Has our region ever recovered? Can we blame high levels of unemployment, high levels of drug and alcohol dependency and offending behaviour on this? These are questions that will, forever, remain unanswered. We will never know how different things might have been had our industries remained but my personal belief is that things would be different. Better? Maybe. What will Redcar do without it’s steel, it’s core, it’s heartbeat?

The generations who have dedicated their lives to the industry now have no legacy to pass on. It’s a desperate situation, one that appears to have been ignored by the people who have the ability to make changes.

Despite me saying this is not a political blog, today I feel let down by the government. We accepted that the jobs were gone but what is difficult to accept is the lack of respect that has been shown towards the plant and to its workforce. SSI allowed their financial problems to spiral out of control. They didn’t ask for help. They effectively buried their heads in the sand. When they could not hide anymore they disappeared. No questions have been answered and no apologies made.

It is not Paul’s fault or Billy’s fault or Eddy’s fault that SSI ended up in such a mess though they are the ones who have been punished. These men and hundreds more gave everything to ensure top quality steel was being manufactured in Redcar. The job itself was dangerous, the shifts were long but these men were dedicated to the industry and proud of the work they did. They deserve answers, they deserve an apology, they deserve a future.

The future for us is uncertain. We didn’t plan to be in this position, punished for the failure of a business. Our future was bright, full of plans. At the moment the brightness has dimmed. The light has not gone out altogether but it’s faded. For now our plans have been mothballed. However, in time, unlike Redcar Steel Plant, our future will reignite, of this I am sure.

BILLY
October 13, 2015

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.

WEDDING: Anna and Paul on their wedding day in 2010.

WEDDING: Anna and Paul on their wedding day in 2010.

GOALS
October 15, 2015
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!

HAPPY: The Maven family at Euro Disney at Easter this year.

HAPPY: The Maven family at Euro Disney at Easter this year.

PAUL’S PROGRESS                                                                                                                              

October 16, 2015

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.

QUESTION TIME
October 19, 2015

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 Teesside 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.

PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
October 24, 2015

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 five  and six 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.

SHADOWS: The Maven family stay bright.

SHADOWS: The Maven family stay bright.

SUNDAY SMILING
October 25, 2015
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.

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