The ex-Man United star helping the homeless through Covid: His shelter was deemed unsafe in a pandemic, so Lou Macari filled a warehouse with glamping pods equipped with beds, heaters and TVs - and numbered doors so residents can find work more easily
Lou Macari has detailed how he was forced to adapt to the demands of the Covid-19 pandemic to keep his homeless shelter in Stoke-on-Trent open.
The former footballer, who played more than 400 matches for Manchester United, had 40 people using his shelter when the pandemic struck in March last year and the dormitory-style accommodation was no longer deemed safe and suitable.
The UK Government called for closure of these dorms and while some within the homeless community were moved to hotels, Macari chose to move to a warehouse 'the size of a football pitch' to keep many of his residents together.
Macari, 71, installed 'glamping' style pods inside the warehouse and kitted them out with new beds, heaters, televisions and a numbered front door to give the residents proof of address when searching for work.
'The change it's made is incredible,' Macari told BBC 5 Live.
'I'd stumbled onto something which is probably a far bigger help to homeless people than anything else that we talk about.'
Four years ago Macari set up the shelter with his foundation having been struck by the lack of help being offered to the homeless in his native Stoke-on-Trent.
The 'pod' style development is the biggest renovation since Macari set up the shelter and the idea was born after seeing the pods while camping.
He added: 'I thought will these work in a warehouse? And I thought well there's no reason why they wouldn't.'
Resident Terry Beckett told StokeonTrentLive: 'It's a lot different to the old place. If I need to go get my head straight, I can just go to my own room.
'I liked the old place, but I couldn't do that there. Living here is much more like a normal life.'
The shelter was inundated with donations and suppliers with Arch Leisure providing the accommodation pods.
It was the League Managers' Association who donated a television for every pod with Macari, an LMA member, aware that the group is sponsored by tech company LG.
'You forget homeless people don't have televisions,' he said. 'They're not out in the street with televisions and of course now they've shown an interest in everything.'
Dusal made and donated 75 new hotel-quality duvets for the renovation project while local companies such as Stoke's Steelite International provided 70 new mugs for guests to use.
'They've gone from untidy people, to showing a great deal of pride in their pod,' Macari added.
'Because there's a number outside, they can now go to the job centre, they can say 'No 4 Regent Road and the house I live in is number 5'.'
Nick, one of the occupants in the pods at Macari's warehouse, struggled to put into words how beneficial the renovation has been on the lives of the residents.
'The difference between over there and over here is unbelievable Lou,' he told Macari. 'What you've done... I can actually shut the door and get rid of the rest of you [laughs]!
Macari revealed plans to install gym equipment between the pods, separated to comply with social distancing.
The 71-year-old is aiming for a rowing machine, punch bag, a treadmill among other facilities.
The renovation project, which began last year, was funded from the council's £16million coronavirus funding from the Government.
The Macari Centre pledges to provide emergency shelter and safe, short-term accommodation for people in need in the Stoke area.