A group of squatters and homeless activists that took over a huge hotel undergoing renovation have been told they’re allowed to stay for the winter – by the hotel’s owners.
Manchester Angels gained access to the building, which is due to open as a luxury boutique hotel, on Sunday. The group assumed they’d be swiftly moved on, but were told by former Manchester United captain Gary Neville, one of the properties owners along with Manchester United assistant manager Ryan Giggs, they could stay.
Housing activist Wesley Hall, 33, said he broke down and cried after Neville told him the group could stay for a few months. “I’m crying,” he wrote on the group’s Facebook page. “Just go off the phone to Gary Neville. He’s letting us stay for a few months over the winter period and he’s gonna help us with intervention. I’m shaking here.”
The imposing former stock exchange was bought by Neville and Giggs two years ago for £1.5 million ($2.3 million). The pair gained permission to turn it into a 35-bed hotel complete with basement gym, spa, bar, restaurant and even a rooftop private members’ terrace.
Before that, though, it will be a sanctuary for homeless people. It’s been renamed the Sock Exchange and will provide somewhere to sleep, hot food, clothing, health checkups, advice on benefits and help with securing long term accommodation. There’s a hashtag, #OpSafeWinter, to coordinate the work. The group say they’re “in talks with a household name chef” to help with a Christmas meal.
“We are going to do everything properly,” Hall said of the project.
“We have already drawn up rotas for cooking, cleaning and staffing the gate. Everyone will be able to have their own room and each person will be able to lock their bedroom door.”
“We were expecting that as soon as Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville found out that we had occupied the building, they would try to get us evicted and that we would have to look for another building. Having a few months during the winter to work with homeless people without the threat of eviction hanging over our heads is brilliant.”
According to Hall, Neville just asked that the temporary residents allow surveyors to access the building as work continues on its renovation. Hall said he has promised to leave the building in as good a state as he found it, if not better.