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Last Updated: Friday, 15 April, 2005, 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK
Christian counsel in tough times
By Anna Browning
BBC News

Redundancy notices are being handed out to 5,000 workers at MG Rover's Longbridge plant. Despite a 150m package being offered by the government times are going to be hard and the factory's two chaplains will be busy men.

For 10 years the Reverend Peter Thomas has been a constant presence at Rover's Longbridge plant, offering support and counselling to its 6,000-strong workforce.

But as the car manufacturer winds down, life for its chaplain is set to become a whole lot busier as the vicar of Rednal helps them overcome their "bereavement" and move on to pastures new.

Pete Thomas MG Rover chaplain
Mr Thomas says there has been a 'subdued' atmosphere at the plant
For the past week he has spent every day at Longbridge as they waited for news, staying positive "while there was a glimmer of hope", he said.

Now, the worst has happened. It is the end of the line for Rover and its staff have little left to do there but gather their belongings and leave.

"It has been noticeable there has been a subdued atmosphere over the place," he told BBC News website.

"They are shaking hands saying 'good on you' and take everything away in plastic bags.

"It has been a shock, it all happened so quickly.

"Up until the beginning of last week there was anticipation a deal with Shanghai was getting close. That was the message that was received.

But this place is very much like a family. Many people keep saying they can cope but what about someone over there
The Reverend Peter Thomas

"But people are being realistic. They have known over the past five years a partner for the company was necessary for survival.

'Generous spirit'

"This place is very much like a family. Many people keep saying they can cope but what about someone over there.

"There is very much a generosity of spirit, of comradeship."

He said he was encouraging people to meet weekly, to keep up the friendships that had flourished at Longbridge.

"It is a sense of bereavement, bereavement of friendship," he said.

"There's some anger and a lot of tearfulness," he added.

Rover workers packing up
As workers pack up, there is still a strong comradeship, says Mr Thomas

But for many, thoughts were already turning to the future.

"I have been speaking to someone who has written a couple of musical plays and I have given a name, so they're going to get in contact with them to see if they can make it pay.

"Somebody else has got a couple of interviews lined up for next week, but this is someone who has transferable skills.

"But I have been talking to some who have got a particular skill in the motoring industry and have contacted other car manufacturers and have been told they don't want to take on their particular skills at this time.

"There is a real mix of what people are going to do. Some people are definitely thinking of changing direction, but somebody needs to take them on first."

Practical support

For Mr Thomas, the next few weeks are also an uncertain time, but, he says, he has made it known he is there to offer support - both practical and spiritual.

He has applied for a table at a promised resource centre - as part of a government rescue package to deal with the fall-out from the factory's closure.

He is also part of a council group set up to aid Rover workers.

He has suggested two month's "breathing space" for council tax payments.

"There are whole families that work here," he said. "With both incomes gone, how are they going to keep going?"


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