WHEN the going gets tough, Livingston gets organised. Even though it was the run-up to Christmas and most folk had planned to be getting their own homes and families ready for the festive period, within an hour of opening on Saturday, December 22, the Kaiam community hub was stacked full of toys, hundreds of pounds of vouchers and cash, gift boxes, selection boxes and food.

In the face of crisis, the people of Livingston, West Lothian and beyond opened their hearts and their pockets to support the workers of local manufacturing firm Kaiam, who had been left in fear of having no job and no pay before Christmas.

When the news reached me on the evening of Thursday, December 20, I had just returned home from an SNP branch meeting. Part of the way through I noticed Ross, one of our members, pop out but not return. I found out the next day that news of Kaiam had reached him by text and he’d rushed home as his father and brother-in-law both worked at Kaiam.

By the next morning the grim details of what workers were facing were clear: the potential loss of their last pay of the year and redundancy. To add salt to the wound the CEO of Kaiam, Dr Bardia Pezeshki, had been at the staff Christmas party and in the office merrily chatting with staff just days before they were told their potential fate.

The delivery of the news was instead left to local managers, who were themselves in the same position, as Pezeshki boarded a plane out of Scotland. This was a shameful act by the CEO.

That Friday I attended a meeting at West Lothian Council to discuss the support we could provide the staff and it was clear everything that could be done was being done in the event of staff losing their jobs. Local council plans and the support of Scottish Government agencies in the medium-to-long-term were necessary and important, but what were we going to do for the run up to Christmas, for those facing no food on the table or presents under the tree?

At 10.30pm I called Elaine Cook, the deputy chief executive of West Lothian Council, at home. I asked whether we could get access to a community centre for the next few days. She agreed.

Social media is so often criticised for its negative impact on people’s lives but I was to find out in the following few days it can also be a powerful force for good.

A group called West Lothian Women had started on Facebook just a few months earlier and now had more than 10,000 members. I had been tagged in a number of posts asking how the women of West Lothian could help. Lots of ideas were being passed around – it was clear they were ready, willing and able to help.

After I posted on the Women of West Lothian group about my chat with Elaine Cook, Mhairi Duff – a member of the local parent teacher group and a keyholder at Livingston Station Community Centre – said she’d open up and was available most of the next three days.

Kelly Braidy, another local woman, then chipped in, as did many others. Before I knew it there was a whole army of women getting stuck in. We spent the next few days in tears on many occasions at the generosity of so many people. One nine-year-old lad called Cole donated all of his savings (£160) because his gran worked at Kaiam and he wanted to help other people like her.

A former employee of Kaiam, Mark Hesketh, who now has his own company, Optoscribe, came in that first evening with £1000 of vouchers, Witherby Publishing got in touch and donated £3000. Social Bite donated money, gift boxes and food, and workers from Kaiam in America, worried for their colleagues, chipped in online.

Over the following three days, families, individuals, church groups, companies and politicians of all parties streamed through the doors of Livingston Station Community Centre giving whatever they could to help workers.

THE Cyrenians gifted 35 tons of food and folk like local councillor Andrew Miller and his wife Gaynor, with their kids in tow, took food parcels across West Lothian and beyond, as did local teacher and businesswoman Carol Murdoch, a permanent fixture in the hub before and after Christmas.

Many hampers were also made by Sheena Morrison in her home and delivered direct to folks. The women who worked tirelessly making food and bringing tea and coffee to all of the workers were incredible, not just because of their empathy and kindness, but because they knew what people needed ... not to feel embarrassed but proud that their community was rallying in support.

I certainly felt incredibly proud to represent a community with such a big heart.

When a company closes it often means the loss of not just one wage from a household or family but several.

We had many people through the doors of the community hub who were in that position. Time and again workers were coming in saying they were reluctant to accept the gift of support from the community because they knew of someone less well off than themselves.

But volunteers soothed their worry about accepting kindness, talked them into taking vouchers or items they knew they needed and even took things to people’s houses or arranged pick up from their own homes well after the hub had closed.

At one point we were worried we wouldn’t shift all of the toys, but in a heartbeat volunteers intervened and started walking distraught workers and families round the scores of toys with bags, saying, “right, how many kids have you got? How old?” It was a sort of personal shopping experience so they didn’t feel overwhelmed.

Many of those who came and volunteered in the hub were workers themselves. I spent part of the day on Saturday, December 22, driving around supermarkets to collect donations with Stewart Gorman, one of the local managers left to deliver the news to staff by the CEO and who was in exactly the same position as the rest of the staff. Regardless, he was getting stuck in and helping.

Joanne Baxter, a Kaiam worker who was also faced with no job and no pay before Christmas, put herself forward and spoke out in the media when others were scared to. She worked tirelessly at the hub along with Mhiari Duff, Emma Black (whose father was a Kaiam employee), Caroline King, Debbie Harkness, Laura Steele, Leigh McComish, Sandra McLaughlin, Lynda Anderson and many others, too many to name.

There were some difficult moments when we ran out of cash and vouchers, we had to scrabble around taking cash off credit cards, calling around any businesses we could think of. Eventually Deans Bowling Club stepped in to give the team an advance and a donation until the online donation pot could be dispersed.

These incredible women co-ordinated all aspects of the hub and quite literally set up and ran a small business within a matter of hours. All of it organised by women who’d mostly never met before.

It was a remarkable feat and I can’t think of a better tale to capture the true spirit of Christmas. The people of Livingston and West Lothian were coming out in their droves and gave the gift of Christmas to the workers of Kaiam.

So often society is consumed by shopping and buying and not having exactly the right thing for people at Christmas, we often forget what it’s actually about – being together and helping those who are less fortunate.

As a community group and as politicians we will continue to do all we can to support the workers, but in the meantime one thing is clear: when the going gets tough, Livingston gets organised.

Hannah Bardell is SNP MP for Livingston