British Steel: ‘We fear for our town’s future’

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Matthew Buckley

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The Buckley family are concerned about the future of Scunthorpe

“I think it will just go downhill. It’ll be left almost barren.”

Julian Buckley paints a gloomy picture of his hometown of Scunthorpe if the British Steel plant closes down.

Sitting around the family dining room table over a fish-and-chip supper, Julian, aged 21, tells me he hopes to come back home to live after graduating from Liverpool University.

“I actually want to work in health and safety, which the steelworks would be such a good employer for.

“But if it’s not there, I’ll have to look somewhere else. And that’s the problem really, isn’t it?”

Julian’s father Matthew has been working at British Steel’s on-site power station in Scunthorpe for 19 years, but now fears losing his job.

“The last few months have been quite awful really,” he admits, reflecting on months of rumour and fear about the future of the plant.

Matthew, who is 50, has faced this situation before. He used to work at British Steel in Stoke-on-Trent and left just before it closed in 2000.

“We started to reduce shift patterns,” he recalls.

“You felt that the writing was on the wall, and it was only a matter of time before that closed, so we decided to take the plunge and we transferred up here.”

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The family settled in the pretty village of Winterton, six miles north of the town centre. But in 2016, Matthew faced another job crisis when Tata, the owners of the Scunthorpe plant, decided to sell up.

“We were at a really sticky place there,” Matthew says.

“It took a long time to get the ball rolling and get some interest from the central government.

“We had marches in Scunthorpe and London to keep steelmaking alive and well in the town.”

The campaign worked. London-based Greybull Capital moved in to save the company, but it was only a temporary reprieve.

In May, they too conceded defeat and British Steel was forced into liquidation.

Matthew’s wife Joy, 48, says: “If the worst comes to worst, and the steelworks does actually shut, it will be devastating for so many people here.

“People will probably have to move away.”

Julian reflects on the youngsters who he grew up with, who didn’t go to university, but instead secured much-prized British Steel apprenticeships.

“Without the steelworks, they won’t get those apprenticeships,” he says.

“They’ll either be stuck in Scunthorpe because they haven’t got those skills, or they will have to look elsewhere, and you’ll have this exodus of young people.

“It sounds cheesy, but they are the future of society.

“Without all those young people, what’s going to happen to Scunthorpe?”

File on 4 investigates the collapse of British Steel on Radio 4 on Tuesday 2 July at 20:00.

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