Scunthorpe residents fear over steelworks future

British Steel plant
Image caption More than 3,000 people work at the steel plant in Scunthorpe

British Steel's announcement that it is to go into official receivership threatens more uncertainty for the 3,000-strong workforce at its main Scunthorpe plant.

The firm's owners Greybull Capital failed to secure financial support from the government after claiming it faced a number of Brexit-related issues.

The Official Receiver said the company was "continuing to trade and supply its customers while I consider options for the business".

Roy Rickhuss from the Community trade union said the plant, which dominates the town both physically and economically, was now involved in a "fight for the future".

He called on all parties to "focus on saving the jobs".

Former steelworker Charlotte Childs, who is now a regional official for the GMB union, said the news was "absolutely devastating".

She said: "I don't think it can be understated - the impact that this is going to have on the town and community - if we don't find a solution to this imminently."

Ms Childs said the failure to secure the plant's future would mean "mass uncertainty" for workers.

"It means not knowing whether you're going to be paying your mortgage at the end of the month. It means that we don't know what's going to happen in the near future."

'Ghost town'

This is the second time in three years the plant has faced an uncertain future.

Previous owners Tata Steel had planned to shut the plant before it sold out to investment group Greybull for £1 in 2016.

As well as the plant's workers the North Lincolnshire town's economy relies heavily on the giant steel works, with an estimated 20,000 jobs linked to the site.

Its closure would be a body blow, with some residents claiming it would leave Scunthorpe a "ghost town".

"Everyone is terrified," said steelworker Kevin Prior.

Image caption Kevin Prior, pictured with his partner Kayleigh Manderson, said rumours about the plant had been "circulating for weeks"

The 32-year-old scrap metal cutter has been at the plant since 2015 and said the current mood "echoes" that of three years ago, when it was under threat of closure from Tata.

He said: "I'm only just recovering from when I got laid off at my last job.

"I've built myself back up and it's just become stable. I have got a solid income now and I'm able to begin living properly. Me and my partner have moved in to a new house.

"But now it's, 'oh no, not again'.

"I'm so used to this kind of bad news. But I'll keep my chin up and do what I can to press on."

Mr Prior, whose sister and brother-in-law also work at the plant, said rumours about the company's future had been circulating for a number of weeks.

"It's just heartbreaking," he said.

"It's horrible to hear that my sister is crying herself to sleep because she doesn't know what's going to happen with her husband's job and what that means for them.

"There's not that many jobs in Scunthorpe.

"What on earth am I going to do? There's nothing bright on the horizon if this goes down."

Image caption Shoppers on the town's High Street said a possible closure of the steelworks would "kill" the town

In a nearby cafe frequented by British Steel staff and its contractors, a worker is clearing up tables before closing for the day, ready to start again the next morning.

As she laments over the possibility of the plant collapsing, she tells me how the cafe has had "no trade for the past six to eight weeks" because of the looming threat of administration.

The worker, who wishes to remain anonymous, is even more worried about the cafe "going under".

"The minute that [steelworks] shuts this place is going to close," she said.

"And when that happens I'll be at the back of the dole queue because I'm not skilled.

"The government has to do something."

Image caption Business owner David Phillip Patinson says the troubled steelworks has "managed to scrape through" in the past

While plumes of smoke rise and trail off from the steelwork's imposing towers, in the town's shopping precinct the thick cloud is yet to penetrate Scunthorpe's blue skyline.

David Phillip Patinson, 55, who owns a local garage, said he was "60% positive" British Steel would be rescued, as shutting the doors on a 150-year-old manufacturing giant meant "this town is finished".

"They've been in this position before in the past and they've always managed to scrape through," he said.

"The steelworks is the backbone of Scunthorpe. It's the only thing that keeps this town going and without that I don't know what'll happen."

Pointing to a row of shops, he added: "All these businesses, all these shops and everything else, they rely on British Steel [customers] spending money in these places.

"And if that shuts and 2,000-plus jobs go, then Scunthorpe will just be a ghost town.

"My business and everyone else's here wouldn't survive."

Image caption Racheal Jones and her partner Stevhen Drewery believe the steelworks should stay in the town "forever"

His sentiments are resonated by Scunthorpe-born-and-bred shoppers Racheal Jones and her partner Stevhen Drewery, both 26.

"If the steelworks shuts down then it's the end of Scunthorpe.

"Scunthorpe is a steel-built town and if the steel is gone then we've got nothing else. Everything else is going to get shut down."

The stay-at-home mum said she feared her and her family would have "no future in this town" if the plant were to close.

"If I try to get a job then it's going to be harder because there'll be more experienced and skilled people wanting those jobs.

"Our little girl's two years old and it's going to affect her in the long run."

But Miss Jones said she was "hopeful" the plant "would continue".

"It belongs here. It should stay here forever. But they say things can't last forever can they? It's sad really."

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