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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 April, 2005, 23:29 GMT 00:29 UK
'Demoralised, disillusioned, deserted'
By Lincoln Archer
BBC News website

Longbridge residents tell of the impact of the collapse of MG Rover on the local community - and how there may be worse yet to come.

"There really is an air of doom and gloom in the area at the moment. You can definitely feel it," says Birmingham newsagent Roger Page.

Roger Page at his newsagent
It's like a ghost town here now. It's very deserted
Roger Page
Longbridge newsagent

Mr Page has run his business in Longbridge Lane, a few hundred yards from the Rover plant, for 40 years.

In that time he has watched the car manufacturer's fortunes steadily decline, along with its workforce.

At the peak of production, he knew whenever he heard the sound of the "bull", the plant's loudspeaker, that his shop would be overrun within minutes by workers.

"But now it's like a ghost town here now. It's very deserted," he says.

Gareth Law, who manages the nearby Black Horse pub, said he had felt a lot of "tension" in the community as Rover veered towards collapse.

"Normally they're quite a loud bunch in here, but over the last week they've seemed a bit demoralised," he says.

"We had a good crowd in for the Birmingham match [against Portsmouth] and for that 90 minutes that was a good distraction. But otherwise it's been a very sombre mood."

That mood also struck Susan Watkins, who runs the West Heath Playgroup at the Community Association down the road.

"It was deathly quiet on Monday morning," she says of the day redundancy notices were sent to 5,000 staff.

The bustle of traffic which would normally file down past her house towards the factory had been replaced by a gentle hum from a few cars heading the other way.

Impact

The financial impact for local families was obvious almost immediately.

Ms Watkins says: "Some of the children here were asking for some of the books we sell, but the parents had to say no.

David Walters
Even when people retired they'd come back just to see the place
David Walters
Former Rover worker

"These books only cost 2 or 3, but the parents already had to prioritise what they spent money on."

Ms Watkins, whose grandfather had worked at the company, said everyone in Longbridge and West Heath would know someone directly affected by the closure.

But the impact would also run deeper. Her son's school, as well at least one more nearby, had been sponsored by MG Rover.

Students also often did work experience there, and in many cases would go on to do apprenticeships.

David Walters, who worked at MG Rover for 38 years, says the company had a tradition of involvement in the community.

He remembers the company holding a fair when toy cars were given away and some staff dressed as Lord Austin, the company's founder.

Susan Watkins with kids at the playgroup
Susan Watkins says the closure has hurt the whole area
He says: "It's part of our heritage. Even when people retired they'd come back just to see the place."

He says the workers, all left disillusioned by company's demise, were an incredibly close-knit group after years together on the shopfloor.

This meant many were in the situation where it was not just them out of work, but all their friends as well.

Support

That could make the closure take an even greater toll on many families, who could find themselves with few outside outlets for their frustration, anger or despair.

"The families are all having their own problems so they may find it harder to get proper support," says Diana Cottingham, who works with Homestart, a program that helps families deal various forms and causes of stress.

It may only get worse in the next few months.

Ms Cottingham says the summer holidays, when children need to be entertained and families would traditionally go on holiday, would be a difficult time.

She says: "Then when parents are getting their children ready to go back to school, the extra money that requires could be hard to come by.

"There may be some major, major difficulties ahead."


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