Former Manchester United footballers Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs told a group of homeless activists, who moved into a £1.5m building they are converting into a hotel, to stay until February to endure the coldest winter months. The pair bought the Manchester Stock Exchange building two years ago, and are in the process of converting it into an exclusive hotel, complete with a private members' terrace and a spa.
The squatters, who are part of homeless housing activists Manchester Angels, moved in on Sunday while builders work on the site. For the past 10 years, Neville had offered support to homeless people he has seen on the street while walking through Manchester, reports the Guardian.
Activists have taken residence in the building by claiming squatter's rights. The activists were kicked out of an empty office block on Charlotte Street in the city centre after police and council bosses secured a court order demanding they leave within 24 hours, report the Manchester Evening News. It was thought that they would soon be kicked out of the Stock Exchange building.
Wesley Hall, a 33-year-old housing activist who is leading the occupation, spoke to Neville on the phone – and was left speechless by the football star's response. "From my point of view I'm quite relaxed about this," Neville replied to Mr Hall, according to the Guardian.
Neville told Mr Hall that the group is welcome to stay at the site until February. "We were expecting that as soon as Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville found out that we had occupied the building that they would try to get us evicted and that we would have to look for another building," Mr Hall told the Guardian.
The famous footballer's reaction is a change from the usual response of property owners, who rush to get a court order to evict the squatters. It's part of the ex-Reds pair's renewed attempt to set up a 'community hub' for rough sleepers.
According to the Manchester Evening News, Neville will help Hall with homeless 'intervention.' "He knows we'll look after the building and make proper use of it until the building work starts. This isn't a long term thing, but we'll have so much going on in here to help people."
The activists plan to provide hot food, shelter and advice for the homeless at the site, the Mirror reports. Kitchens have been set up and areas have been dedicated to classes on welfare rights and creative workshops. The homeless activists spent Saturday setting up tents on the marble floors, transforming the vast halls into living quarters.
Mr Hall said Neville was 'saving lives', adding: "I was crying and shaking after I got off the phone. The graft has paid off. "What a great guy Gary Neville is. We've been in negotiations with him and things are looking good. He said the main building work isn't taking place until February, so we'll be okay to stay until then.
The Grade II-listed building, built in 1906, is set to be transformed into a plush hotel by the footballers. It will feature 35 beds, a basement gym and spa, a roof-top private members' terrace, a restaurant and a bar.