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Huge relief for former Wrightbus workers

Former Wrightbus workers were celebrating yesterday after a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the company which went into administration last month with the loss of 1,200 jobs.

English industrialist Jo Bamford's announcement that he had agreed a deal in principle to buy the factory and associated land from Jeff Wright was greeted with a tremendous sense of relief.

The unions have rightly cautioned that a few more hurdles need to be overcome before a formal agreement next week, however, this is a hugely positive development which, it has to be said, looked distinctly unlikely as late as Thursday.

The mood then was decidedly gloomy after Mr Bamford and Mr Wright issued statements which pointed to clear differences between the two sides, centring on a dispute over farm land close to the factory premises.

Given the tone as well as the content of the comments, there seemed little prospect of agreement at that stage but thankfully all those involved continued to talk and former employees who had waited for news were rewarded yesterday morning.

In some ways, this outcome has echoes of the successful rescue of Harland & Wolff shipyard which was sold earlier this month after entering administration.

In both cases, the workers mounted determined campaigns to ensure the business continued and jobs saved.

The depth of anger at Wrightbus was all too apparent when 500 former workers protested outside Green Pastures church in Ballymena, where Jeff Wright is a pastor, and which had received substantial donations from Wrightbus.

It is not clear at this stage how many jobs will be saved by the sale of Wrightbus to Ryse Hydrogen, Jo Bamford's company, but the position is now very different from recent weeks when the collapse of the long-established bus builder - which had been regarded as a huge success story - left staff stunned and caused shock in the wider community.

The loss of so many jobs after the closure of Michelin and JTI Gallaher was a devastating blow to north Antrim.

Hopefully, once this deal is safely concluded, we will see this famous firm back doing what it does best, using the talent and skills of its dedicated workforce and contributing to the prosperity of Ballymena and the wider economy.

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