(CNN) — There are thousands of people sleeping rough in the UK but for a lucky few in Manchester help is at hand from one of the northern city’s most famous sons.
English Premier League footballers are often criticized for their ostentatious lifestyles, but Gary Neville, the former Manchester United and England footballer, has bucked the trend by opening up one of the city’s most famous landmarks — which he owns with former teammate Ryan Giggs — to the homeless.
The pair purchased the $2.3 million former Manchester Stock Exchange in 2013, but renovation work at the grade II-listed building is not set to start until February.
Neville, who enjoyed an illustrious playing career, winning the Champions League twice, eight Premier League trophies, three FA Cups and two League Cups, plans to turn it into a luxury boutique hotel with a rooftop terrace and private members area.
But those plans are on hold after he gave the go-ahead for a group of homeless people to move in.
“I burst into tears when Gary told me we could stay at the hotel until February,” Wes Hall, a human rights and housing activist who is leading the campaign, told CNN.
“I don’t think Gary realizes what he has done — he is going to save hundreds of lives this winter.
“He’s such a down to earth guy. He just wants to help people and this is absolutely wonderful. I know he’s been helping the homeless community in Manchester for the past 10 years but this will allow us to really enable the community to make this into a hub.”
The group, known as the Manchester Angels, are planning to use the soon-to-be hotel to help bring the community together with hundreds of volunteers having already contacted Hall since they moved into the building on Saturday.
According to Crisis, a homeless charity, 280,000 people in England sought assistance from councils last year, while 7,581 slept on the streets of London — an increase of 16% on the previous year.
Figures released by the Empty Homes Agency stated that there are currently 610,000 empty homes across the country.
Another homeless charity –Homeless Link — estimates that Manchester has the fourth highest rate of rough sleeping in England.
Now working as a soccer television pundit Neville, who also co-owns a restaurant and hotel with Giggs, has made just one stipulation to the group — that workmen are allowed access to the building when required.
Hall has promised that the group will abide by the rules while he has also ordered fire alarms for the building which he has ensured will remain spotlessly clean during their stay.
Hall told CNN that he wants to provide not just a shelter for those on the street but an entire center which comprises of health checks, benefit advice, job training, hot food and help with finding permanent accommodation.
At the moment he says there are 30 residents though that is expected increase as the weather deteriorates.
“This is an opportunity to bring the community together,” Hall added. “It’s not place for people to mess about — it’s a place where we can give people help.
“By bringing people together we can create social change. You can see from the reaction we’ve had on social media and the main stream media what an impact this is having.
“We’re inviting all sectors of society in the city to get involved. We want businesses to come down and help — they’ve got so much to offer.
“We’ve got old ladies knitting hats and scarves, people bringing in food, others coming in to helping with benefits advice.
“It is uniting the community and shows what can be achieved.”
Hall has already received a call from a well-known football player who says he will donate food from a restaurant he owns in the city.
Hall has been also asked by a top chef whether he can come to the hotel and cook Christmas Dinner for the residents, while one “famous” director has asked Hall if he can take the venture worldwide once he’s finished with his work in Manchester.
The 33-year-old online marketing consultant says he has been blown away by it all.
“I’ve been campaigning on homelessness for the past three years,” he explained.
“I started seeing more and more homeless people every day and wanted to do something about it.
“I started an outreach kitchen and noticed that the attendances grew every week.
“This new center will change people’s lives.”
Hall grew up sleeping in a bedroom which had Manchester United wallpaper even though he supports Burnley, which plays in English’s football second tier.
While he confesses that he had little love for United, the team his brother supports, that has all changed now.
“As a kid it was all about Burnley — I couldn’t stand United.
“Now, I don’t think I could love Gary Neville and Manchester United any more than I do.
“It’s just incredible — what he has done is just amazing.”
Neville joins a long line of Manchester philanthropists, notably industrialist John Rylands, whose wealth funded the John Rylands Library, which houses the UK’s largest collection of rare books and manuscripts.
Neville, who graduated through United’s famous “class of 92” along with brother Phillip, Giggs, Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Nicky Butt, has a record of working with the community.
In 2014, the group purchased local club Salford City FC and helped it win promotion last season.
Neville is also involved with the England national team as part of the coaching staff.