Stocksbridge: ‘We can’t survive without our steelworks’

The site of Tata Steel in Stocksbridge. Picture: Andrew Roe
The site of Tata Steel in Stocksbridge. Picture: Andrew Roe

The mood of many in Stocksbridge yesterday was as dark as the slate roof tiles of the homes built for steelworkers decades ago.

Tata Steel’s decision to sell its UK business is another blow to South Yorkshire’s beleaguered steelworks and the communities that depend on them so much, according to residents.

Frank Fletcher. Picture: Andrew Roe

Frank Fletcher. Picture: Andrew Roe

The Indian firm announced plans to get rid of its 15 UK sites on Tuesday, with board members saying a plan to restructure the business was ‘unaffordable’. The decision could put more than 2,000 jobs at three South Yorkshire sites, and 15,000 nationally, at risk.

Stocksbridge in particular is synonymous with steel. The town was built around the steelworks and even the name of the football team, Stocksbridge Park Steels, gives a nod to its heritage.

Nathan Helliwell, 35, a former steelworker who now cares for his mother full time, said: “It’s not good. We are going to lose a lot of income round here.

“I know a lot of friends who could lose their jobs. I’ve spoken to a couple. They are unsure whether their mortgages are going to get paid.

Claire Siddall. Picture: Andrew Roe

Claire Siddall. Picture: Andrew Roe

“The steelworks is the lifeblood of this community. It can’t survive without the steelworks. Probably 50 per cent of the people who live here either work there or have had family members there.

“There is nothing around here any more. Everything is closing down. It’s not the environment that it was 20 or 30 years ago.”

Frank Fletcher, 74, is now retired, but worked at the Stocksbridge steelworks for two spells, first in the 1950s. He said: “I just feel sorry for the youngsters coming up. When I left there were 10,000 people there, and when I came back it was 5,000.”

Frank said part of the problem was competition from cheap Chinese steel. He added: “To me, Margaret Thatcher started all this. And the Tories aren’t going to help the workers.”

Paul Homewood. Picture: Andrew Roe

Paul Homewood. Picture: Andrew Roe

Yesterday Prime Minister David Cameron said the Government was doing everything it could to resolve the steel crisis, but ruled out nationalisation. Mr Cameron said energy costs in the industry had been cut and the Government had helped to make sure there were penalties for steel dumping.

But Claire Siddall, 48, from Oughtibridge, said the Government should do more.

“It’s a sign of the times,” she said. “I don’t think the Government will do anything. I’ve not got a lot of time for them. But they should put some money in.

“Are they bothered about anyone in the north anyway? I don’t think they are.”

Nathan Helliwell. Picture: Andrew Roe

Nathan Helliwell. Picture: Andrew Roe

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn met Rotherham steelworkers last week, before Tata Steel announced its decision. This week, he started an online petition calling for parliament to be recalled for a debate on the steel industry. The petition quickly gained the 100,000 signatures needed to trigger a debate.

Stocksbridge resident Danielle Gee, 29, knows first hand the kind of problems faced by the steelworkers who met Mr Corbyn. Her partner Ian Fox works at the Tata Steel plant in Stocksbridge.

“It’s going to be devastating in the village if it closes,” she said. “Ian has worked there for 10 years. My stepdad worked there all his life.

“Ian is fortunate to have gone to college to be an electrician, but if it goes there are going to be a lot of people with nothing to do.

“This village was built around the steelworks. Our house was specifically built for steelworkers.

“Ian is worried. He didn’t say much last night.”

Danielle Gee and Faith Whitely. Picture: Andrew Roe

Danielle Gee and Faith Whitely. Picture: Andrew Roe

The national picture seems bleak – but some Stocksbridge residents were hopeful their plant would be saved.

Retired steelworker Paul Homewood, 65, said: “I think it probably won’t affect the steelworks here too much because it’s got the high end product range. I’m sure someone will want to take it on.

“The whole works was going to be shutting down a few years ago. Then they realised that the customers needed high quality steel. When they found out they weren’t going to get their steel from Stocksbridge they said ‘hold on a minute’.

“I suspect it’s quite a small proportion work there now. I left in 1990 and worked there for 20 years. In those days, half the town and half of Barnsley worked there.

“I feel a lot of sympathy for those in Rotherham and down in Port Talbot. They are going to be struggling to take it in.”

Paul said the biggest problem for steel in the UK was the cost of energy. “The Climate Change Act is just pushing jobs abroad,” he added.

Yesterday Lib Dem leader Tim Farron was joined by Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg as he visited steelworkers in Sheffield.

He said the steel industry was of ‘national strategic importance’, adding: “Sheffield is a city built on foundations of steel. I wanted to take this opportunity to come and hear first-hand from people in the industry how they are feeling about the future of steel in the UK.”

South Yorkshrie MPs Clive Betts, Angela Smith, Kevin Barron and Sarah Champion, Louise Haigh and John Healey were among those to sign a letter to Business Secretary Sajid Javid requesting an urgent meeting to discuss the steel crisis. It said: “It is our view that the Government must act now to do all it can to safeguard this vital economic interest, and secure the livelihoods of the thousands of people employed directly at Tata and in the supply chain.”

Analysis by think tank IPPR found that up to 40,000 jobs could be lost in steelworking communities such as those in South Yorkshire if no buyer is found for Tata’s UK businesses. The company employs 15,000 people in its 15 UK sites, but IPPR believes a further 25,000 jobs in the supply chain depend on these plants.

Stocksbridge. Picture: Andrew Roe

Stocksbridge. Picture: Andrew Roe