In April 2000, Rover families lobbied the Government after BMW's decision to dispose of the car maker. Yesterday, almost five years to the day, they again took their fight to Downing Street. Neil Connor
joined the campaigners
6.45am: A chilly April morning. Although the mood was not downcast it was visibly serious. Cars were parked along the pavement outside Q gate, the main entrance to MG Rover's Longbridge plant, as the workers and their families arrived to wait for the coaches.
Half-an-hour later, still no signs of coaches, so the wives came together and talked in small groups while the men lined the gates of the huge closure-threatened factory.
Richard Burden, looking to retain his Northfield seat - which covers Longbridge - for Labour at the General Election, was waiting with shop steward, who remained optimistic. 8am: Three coaches depart MG Rover, containing about 100 wives and children of workers. Their husbands and fathers, who had lined the pavement outside Longbridge, waved, clapped and blew kisses as their loved ones left.
During the early stages of the journey, talk on the coach turned to financial worries, specifically concerning the Rover cars that the families "hire" from the company. They fear they will have to hand them back to the company but continue the monthly payments.
It was difficult to find anyone on the coach who knew for certain what was being offered to them by the company.
Of course, at this point their husbands had not even been made redundant, so how could they expect to know anything about the future. 9am: The coaches are stuck in traffic on the M40, barely out of Warwickshire.
The conversation in my coach turns to the eternal question in desperate situations such as this: who is to blame?
"I do not think it is the fault of the Chinese, it is the directors who I blame," said Tia Lloyd, whose husband David has worked for Rover for 21 years.
"We only got married in October and now we are worried for the future.
"David went to the post office at Longbridge to get an application form for a job there. He was told he was the 198th person to apply.
"The children are aware of the situation. They were told that they would have packed lunches next week instead of school dinners.
"My ten-year-old daughter offered to give me back her pocket money."
The children on board have been remarkably wellbehaved as they quietly clutch in their home made posters displaying words like: "Daddy used to smile, now he's sad." 11am: As we approach London, high spirits become more apparent. A child shouts to a cameraman: " You're not allowed to stand up on the coach." I'm just thinking of the telling off Government officials will be getting in a couple of hours.
Noon: As we approach London the atmosphere becomes even more boisterous. Liz Hanks, aged 38, who helped organise the trip with Gemma Cartwright, was rousing the troops by asking them if they would become involved with a Calendar Girls -style calendar. The response was a wave of laughter. The anticipation was mounting.
12.30pm: The coach pulls up near Downing Street and the mothers walk straight into the middle of a media scrum. Half an hour of interviews and photos follow before the walk to Downing Street. 1pm: Three mothers and three children officially take their campaign to the heart of Government and deliver the campaigners' letter to the most famous front door in the country, in front of the Downing Street press corps.
As cameras flash, six yearold Pearce Cartwright has the honour of knocking the door of No 10 before the brown envelope is handed over.
Prime Minister Tony Blair was not inside. He had earlier helped launch Labour's General Election manifesto in another part of the capital.
"Me and my son came here in 2000," said Pearce's mother, Gemma Cartwright. Mrs Cartwright said the closure of Longbridge would have " horrendous" effects throughout British industry.
"We have come here today because we need the support from the Government. We want them to pull their socks up and get behind the Shanghai deal.
"Rover cannot die because the impact would not just be felt in Birmingham, it would hit people across the country." Mrs Cartwright said she had received telephone calls of support from across the UK since she decided on Monday to help organise the protest.
"One 84-year-old lady telephoned me to offer her support saying that she always bought Rover cars."
A moment or two passes before Gemma's ten-year-old daughter Tia is asked: "Have you anything to add?" as a microphone is thrust into her face.
"Save Rover" she replies nervously under her breath.
But those two words, albeit spoken softly, said volumes about the determination of the group who had come to London.
The women brought with them a bouquet which they left at Downing Street as a gesture of thanks to everyone who had voiced support to their campaign.
1.30pm: After half an hour of photo opportunities and questions, the party began to walk to the Department of Trade and Industry's headquarters in nearby Victoria Street.
Outside the DTI, Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry secretary, is put on the spot as she welcomes the families.
"We are doing everything we can to save jobs and continue manufacturing at Longbridge," she insists.
"What we are focusing on today is getting the right proposal to put to the Chinese."
3.15pm: The Minister listened to the exhausted families for one and a half hours before they, perhaps understandably, left by the back entrance to avoid further questions.
The families were then welcomed to Transport House, the home of the Transport and General Workers Union.
Tony Woodley, general secretary of the T&G, said his union was in talks with the administrators to get the best deal for Rover families.
He also said he expected the Government to continue its aid package next week so that all available options could be explored.
3.50pm: The party gets back on the coaches after a hard day's work, fighting for their futures. Traffic on the way back is lighter.