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The Stock Exchange Hotel: In conversation with Gary Neville

Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs have worked with Turkish design practice Autobahn to restore a part of Manchester history, creating a boutique hotel within Manchester’s former Stock Exchange.

18/03/2020 6 min read
We were, of course, delighted to have former Man Utd and England footballer, Sky Sports pundit and entrepreneur, Gary Neville, as a key note speaker at last December’s Mix Design Collective. While we had Gary’s attention, we asked him about the process behind his latest critically acclaimed hotel development – Manchester’s Stock Exchange Hotel.

The former Stock Exchange building has now been transformed into a high-end hotel, featuring 40 rooms, including two signature suites and a stunning 3,500 sq ft penthouse residence. The food and drink operation in the hotel, meanwhile, is overseen by Michelin-starred chef, Tom Kerridge.

Having purchased the Grade II listed building six years ago, Gary (together with his project team, of course) has helped bring this amazing building back to life. However, as he told our packed MDC audience, this didn’t come without its own issues and challenges.

‘The big problem with the Stock Exchange – or with any project – is if the owner hasn’t got clarity around what they want the project to be,’ Gary admits. ‘It causes confusion and with this project, when we bought the building six years ago, I had this idea that I wanted a detached building in Manchester so we could develop a private members’ club. Since I had finished playing football I had travelled down to London and joined a couple of these clubs – this idea of being able to work in these spaces, I could see that people wanted to work differently – they didn’t just want to work in their offices any more, they wanted more than a desk and they wanted to work in open plan spaces. Thankfully, over the last five or six years, the way that office spaces are designed has been transformed.

‘At the time, however, I could see that people didn’t necessarily want to be at a desk, they wanted to be more free – and that’s how I wanted to work myself. So I felt the idea of a members’ club in Manchester, where entrepreneurial and creative minds could come together, where there was an offer of hospitality associated with it, would be a really good thing for the city. Of course, today, a lot of office buildings have coffee shops and the likes built into them – but this wasn’t so obvious six or seven years ago.

‘So I wanted to do a members’ club, but simultaneously we had just launched Hotel Football over at Trafford, and we were having some difficulties with the F&B, and then we opened a couple of independent restaurants in London and Manchester, and had further problems with F&B – and the problem with the members’ club was that it was heavy on F&B and I’d lost a bit of faith in that sector in terms of our ability to operate in it, and wanted to go more down the hotel room road because we were better at it and the skillset we had was better. So over a period of three or four years, we changed from being a members’ club into being more hotel-led. Then we actually changed chefs as well. We had Michael O’Hare originally – which was very much more of a fine dining concept – and we changed to Tom Kerridge.

‘It got to a point where it became the most confusing project – particularly for the development team and for the design team. We changed design teams throughout – because one chef wanted one designer and the other chef wanted a different designer. I got pulled from pillar to post, which isn’t usual – we’re usually very firm and fixed. When we did Hotel Football, for example, we had a virgin site, we had no brand, we wanted to operate it ourselves and we wanted to build it up from the very bottom, starting at the bottom.’

‘What we did find with the Stock Exchange project was that, when you hand it over to a chef or you hand it over to an interior designer, they pull it away from you, essentially. If you’ve not got very clear parameters set, it’s very easy to get pulled around. So we made sure we put together a document – and this is something I do on every project before it gets to the design team; it’s essentially the owner’s vision or owner’s brief.

‘Everything hangs off this document – whether it is the materials, the design, everything. If it is not in this document then it shouldn’t be part of the project. In this case, if it is not in this document, it shouldn’t be part of the Stock Exchange Hotel.

‘Our vision here – the guidelines for the project – were heritage, meticulousness and trust. So everything had to fit those guidelines. For example, heritage could mean the use of materials – we weren’t going to use materials that weren’t part of the history of the building; they had to fit with the original story. The artwork uses original photographs of the Stock Exchange itself. With this particular project we felt we really had to tell the story of what had already been here. We wanted everything to hang off that. The teal colour was the colour that was used at the time, in the early 1900s.

‘Our document then went to the design team, to the operations team and to the chefs. The great challenges of this project were that, ultimately, I’d changed my mind and so I didn’t get the clarity right from the outset – and that’s a real problem for all design teams on any project, if there isn’t that clear brief.

‘Like I said, we completely changed tack on this project. We had a full interior design done and essentially had to wrestle the project back to meet a new vision. This, of course, cost more money and cost more time. And this will happen to any owner who allows himself to be pulled around and not stick with the original clear vision – it was all my own fault!

‘Hotel Football was a perfect project in one sense because we used a great brand designer as the interior designer. So they created the brand book and then the interior came from that brand book. I’m a great believer that the interior should come from the brand. The interior designer should not be creating the brand. Essentially, with the Stock Exchange, at one point we had the brand agency working on one piece of the project and the interior designer on another piece – and we realised pretty quickly that we had to pull this back in line. If you walk into the project now, you’ve got a hotel that I’m really proud of. I think it’s the best that we could have done. We’ve certainly given our all to this project – we didn’t want to hold back on anything.

‘The biggest challenge we have right now is that we’ve got TV screens throughout the restaurant – which is a big talking point. It really is an amazing restaurant – it’s a great space that was formerly the old trading floor of the Stock Exchange. It’s certainly one of the best dining rooms in Manchester. We wanted to create a non-fine dining experience here. If you go to Tom’s restaurant in Marlow – The Coach – it’s essentially a one-star pub, complete with screens on the walls. We wanted to try to recreate something along those lines here in Manchester. The problem is that it jars with the actual room. Seeing darts and snooker on the TV in this amazing room doesn’t really meet our brand guidelines and doesn’t fit with the heritage of the building – so it’s something that we really need to think about because it’s causing a lot of discussion amongst guests who are coming to experience and enjoy this amazing restaurant.

‘So, there are still some challenges in front of us – although I do think it’s an amazing project and one I’m really proud of.’

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