Uplifting tale of life in the Sock Exchange

HERE is a story to lift the spirits although some readers may have to suppress long-held antipathies. For in this tale two former Manchester United stars display humanity in an unexpected way.

As reported yesterday by the Manchester Evening News, and then picked up by other papers and websites, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs have allowed squatters to move into the hotel they are developing in the centre of Manchester.

The pair have planning permission to turn an historic building that once housed the Manchester Stock Exchange into a boutique hotel with all the refinements one expects of these places (well, not this one, having never set roughshod foot inside a boutique hotel).

The first guests at the hotel turn out to be a group of homeless people who have invited themselves in under the banner of a housing protest group called the Manchester Angels. They arrived carrying banners proclaiming: “We just want somewhere to live.”

The normal response in this situation is for the property owners to obtain a court order to expel the uninvited visitors. Instead the property-developing ex-footballers have told the squatters they can stay in the historic building throughout the winter.

The housing and human rights activist behind the protest is reported to have broken down in tears when Neville, quite a name in property development these days, told him the squatters could stay. Wesley Hall has promised to do everything properly, having already drawn up rotas for running the place.

The squatters intend to use the former stock exchange as a base for helping and housing homeless people during the winter. They will also be handing out clothing for new residents, and have rechristened the historic building as the Sock Exchange, proving that even in extremis it is possible to have a sense of humour.

What’s encouraging about this tale is that two wealthy and famous men have showed compassion to those much less fortunate – so much less fortunate that they are scurrying around a great northern city desperately looking for somewhere to stay warm and dry.

So good on Neville and Giggs. This display of humanity shouldn’t cost them much as the squatters have pledged to look after the building and leave at an arranged time. If that all goes to plan, the ex-footballers will have earned moral brownie points at little cost. Evicting the squatters would have generated unflattering headlines, so this is also a canny bit of public relations too.

Former Man U defender Neville has not always been seen in such a flattering light when it comes to property. Some years ago he controversially won a planning battle over his futuristic £8m house on moorland outside Bolton – a home dubbed by locals as the Teletubbies house. This eco house looks from a glimpse online like the grandest Grand Designs ever, with its underground petal-shaped pods and all. An online skim reveals conflicting reports about whether or not Neville has yet managed to build his eco mansion.

This tale of two ex-footballers displaying humanity to those much less fortunate broke at the same time as a less flattering story. Low-paid cleaners working in the Foreign Office are reported to have been disciplined after writing to foreign secretary Philip Hammond asking for a pay rise. As is often the way, the foreign office and the private contractors employing the cleaners deny any wrongdoing in a way that does not convince.

A case today of ex-footballers two; foreign office hard-hearts nil.

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