‘Please don’t break up our family’: The heartfelt plea over Portsmouth shipyard closure

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PLEASE don’t break up our family – that was the emotional plea last night as workers joined the fight against the closure of BAE Systems’ shipyard in Portsmouth.

Lee and Jemma Smith, who both have jobs involved with shipbuilding, took out a mortgage on a new home just last month and fear last week’s devastating announcement could mean they’ll have to sell up. They had planned to start a family next year and are worried about what the future may hold.

Jemma Smith and her husband Lee Smith at the front of some of the protesters outside Portsmouth Guildhall.''''Picture: Sarah Standing (133131-7408)

Jemma Smith and her husband Lee Smith at the front of some of the protesters outside Portsmouth Guildhall.''''Picture: Sarah Standing (133131-7408)

Last night, Mrs Smith took to the Guildhall steps and made an impassioned plea for BAE to reconsider.

Speaking to the protesters who gathered ahead of the filming of the BBC’s Question Time in the building, she said the team of people working at the shipyard were more like a family that just colleagues.

Mr Smith, 41, a steel worker, said: ‘At first, I didn’t think things would be as serious as they are now.

‘I didn’t take it in that the shipyard was going to close.

‘We were feeling really good in August and September, and now it’s gone from good to bad.

‘We now owe a lot of money and it’s been made worse because we work in the same place. We have got to pay our mortgage at the end of the day.

‘We may now lose our home.’

Jemma, 33, who is a first aider for the workers, said: ‘We feel very low. I’m devastated.’

As previously reported, BAE Systems announced last Wednesday that it will close down the city’s shipyard and move the firm’s shipbuilding operation to the Clyde, in Scotland.

It means 940 workers face redundancy between the end of this year and the latter part of 2014. The couple joined scores of Dockyard workers and GMB officials to protest against the decision last night.

They waved orange flags and GMB secretary addressed the crowd before employees got up to talk about the effects everything would have on their lives.

The News gave out placards and distributed copies of yesterday’s edition which had on the front an open letter to David Cameron that called for immediate action and assurances to be made about the future of the yard.

Gary Cook, the GMB regional organiser with responsibility for shipbuilding, said that given the cold weather and the fact people had worked all day, he was pleased with the turnout or around 100 people.

‘The crucial thing is, we are not going to blame this on BAE Systems,’ he said.

‘It was put in a corner in terms of the conditions placed on it by the Ministry of Defence.’

Mr Cook said more solutions need to be looked at, such as work being distributed across all of the yards and not being put in one place.

‘There is enough work,’ he said.

‘The business of building complex warships must be retained for the nation.

‘It’s a destruction of the duty of the nation.

‘We want the government to look at all the other options, bring back the work to Portsmouth, and think again.

‘There were 52 combat ships that went to the Falklands. That wasn’t enough.

‘Now, we have only got 18.

‘I doubt the Royal Navy could put an exclusion zone around the Isle of Wight.

‘We have got more admirals than we have ships.’

Dockyard joiner Mark Ward said the loss of shipbuilding work will be a hammer blow to the UK’s economy.

He said that he’s only got practical skills and would struggle to fit in if his only job options were office based.

Mark, 40, of Queen Street, Portsea, said: ‘I went into shipbuilding when I was 16.

‘I’m not academic. I’m not going to be a software designer or going to work in accounting. There’s a lot of practical people like me who won’t fit into the academic type businesses.’

Steel worker Marc Talbot, 24, said: ‘I’ve got bills to pay. I want to start a life with my girlfriend.

‘I want to settle down with her. I thought shipbuilding was the way to go.

‘I was told during my apprenticeship that it was a job for life.’

Jeffrey Callaway, 54, who has been involved in shipbuilding since he was 16, said he would now have to tell his grandson Leo, 10, he can’t ever join the trade with him.

‘It’s only just sunk in really with the lads,’ he said.

‘It’s a sad day. We are the best in what we do.’

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