Ex-footballer Gary Neville is joining forces with local business leaders to encourage workers to return safely to Manchester city centre amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Former England and Manchester United defender Neville, 45, has helped form UnitedCity with its stated aim to get the city “back on its feet” in supporting retail, leisure, culture and sports businesses.
The independent campaign group says it will commission privately-funded campaigns and independent research to give clear messaging and data around safety in the workplace, within hospitality venues and on transport.
UnitedCity says it has the backing of Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, and the leader of Manchester City Council Sir Richard Leese, and will work with the city council and the region’s combined authority to highlight the economic and health costs of coronavirus and seek ways to minimise them.
Its research would later be used to negotiate lockdown restrictions with the Government so “a clear roadmap can be put in place to navigate out of restrictions which hamper the region’s economic recovery or further compromise the mental health of its residents”, the group added.
The collective of business owners says it will also raise funds through the private sector which will help support Greater Manchester’s “most vulnerable citizens” in the pandemic.
Neville said: “To make this happen, we need as much support from the business community as possible.
“We are looking for business leaders to step up and lead the change to our working habits, to get our teams back into the office and back together again.”
The footballer turned property developer jointly owns the luxury Stock Exchange Hotel in Manchester city centre with former teammate Ryan Giggs and the pair have plans to build a 40-storey tower elsewhere in the city which will accommodate another luxury hotel, as well as apartments and offices.
Speaking of the UnitedCity launch, he told the Sunday Times: “There are a lot of people who are struggling because they have lost that ability to get up in the morning and do what most people in this country are programmed to do – go to school, go to work and get stuck into the day.
“We are a culture of people who want to get up and do things. We’re not programmed to sit at home. That’s where UnitedCity is going to be bold in its messaging of ‘let’s get people going again’.
“Saving one life is more important than 1,000 people in a restaurant or 10,000 people in a football stadium. But if this thing is going to go on for a long period of time, there has to be that balance. We have to get people’s lives moving again.”
Chris Oglesby, CEO of Manchester-based property developers Bruntwood, said: “The city centre in particular needs life breathed back into it. It’s nothing without its people, and the culture, hospitality, retail and leisure businesses within it have helped create Manchester’s reputation as a hotbed of innovation and dynamism.
“We’ll be looking to build a broad coalition with other business organisations and political leaders, with the long-term aim of ensuring Greater Manchester can recover in a way which is sustainable and healthy.”
Will Lewis, of property consultants OBI, said: “The bigger businesses do have a responsibility. They’ve grown their businesses in the city, and they’ve been the last and the slowest to come back. They’re going to have a shock at the city they come back to if they don’t take responsibility to bring people back and using hotels, bars, restaurants, cinemas, galleries, music venues in a safe way.”