Bryan Wells

Best foot forward – from redundancy to a shoe business

When Redcar Steelworks, one of the UK’s biggest steelmaking plants, stopped production after nearly 100 years 1,700 people were left unemployed. Bryan Wells was one of them but with support from his union Community and an organisation that helps small businesses he has set up his own business.

“Everyone was in complete disbelief,” says Bryan. “To turn up to work one day and to be told don’t come back tomorrow was a shock. We expected to have a job until we decided to leave or retire.”

Bryan worked as a contractor on the site and the contracting company said as there was no more work coming in they no longer had jobs, even though the company was still running. Bryan says: “The union was outraged and jumped into action and said we should be getting a proper payout.”

Bryan and the other contractors received insurance against loss of earnings and loss of future earnings.“The union came up trumps for us,” he adds.

Through Community,Bryan heard that the SSI Task Force [set up to support workers and families affected by the closure] was awarding up to £10,000 for people who wanted to start their own business. “I had been working with my dad’s shoe repair business for years on my days off from the steel works. My dad was planning to retire, so I applied for funding to take over the business,” explains Bryan.

A not-for-profit organisation called Enterprise Revolutionhelpedhim to develop a business plan and to make an application to the SSI Task Force. He was one of only three people to receive the full £10,000. The money has helped him to upgrade the business premises.

It’s been a culture shock for Bryan who was a postman for seven years before working at the steel plant. “For the first time in 30 years, I’m working inside by myself. It takes getting used to when you worked with40 or 50 people on a shift. But I can’t complain. I’m one of the lucky ones.”

The people who worked directly for SSI Redcar only received statutory payouts from the government. Bryan says: “There was fear for a lot of people, especially those who had been there for 30–40 years. The steel works is all they knew. Sadly, there’s no call for a shovel driver in their 50s in this area so people have had to travel to find work.”