Leading construction industry figure and pioneering homelessness advocate Tony Denison has died aged 89. He leaves a unique legacy in the form of CRASH, the charity he founded in 1991 (registered in 1996) to channel the benevolence, expertise and supply chains of the property and construction industry to help homelessness projects.
Seeing himself as a broker ‘bridging the gap’ between homelessness charities and the corporate construction sector, Tony Denison explained how the original concept came about after a “road to Damascus” experience.
Speaking to The Guardian (in 2002), he said, “I was going to a ballet gala with my wife. It was late November and snow covered the ground. There were masses and masses of people sleeping rough all the way down to the theatre. I thought this really is obscene and that the construction industry ought to be capable of making a contribution to alleviate these conditions, as an industry that puts roofs over people’s heads.”
He spoke to a few contacts he had made in the voluntary sector while running Housing and Construction Research Associates to find out what help was urgently required, and followed this up with calls to construction company bosses. A few weeks after his theatre visit, two cold-weather shelters for rough sleepers opened in central London.
Clearly well ahead of his time, Tony had created the forerunner of the public, private, voluntary sector partnerships. Homelessness charities had just begun to focus on the reasons why people were rough sleeping, helping those people to tackle their problems and turn their lives around and it was those charities which gave CRASH the focus for the type of assistance it was able to offer.
With support from Patrick Barbour and John George, Tony’s tireless commitment, determination and focus allowed nothing to get in the way of his objective. As a result, thousands of homeless and vulnerable people have been saved from sleeping on the streets all over the UK.
Tony stepped down as a CRASH trustee in 2002 but continued his charitable work with a homelessness charity close to his home in the South Downs near Chichester, where he enjoyed his retirement with his beloved wife Ann. A keen supporter of research into the causes of homelessness, he kept abreast of developments within the sector and in regular contact with the CRASH office.
His valuable and effective legacy, which has remained true to its roots both in concept and setting, has never received government funding and is entirely supported by its patron partners who are all leading organisations in the construction and property industry.
CRASH continues to encourage patron companies to get directly involved matching their industry expertise to the needs of a particular project. This practical approach means that vital renovations and developments can be carried out to a high standard, providing a safe, sustainable and welcoming refuge for people in need, precisely what Tony established the charity to do.
CRASH Chief Executive Francesca Roberts said, “We owe Tony a great debt. He was absolutely ahead of his time in pioneering what is now referred to as the Big Society concept. He saw precisely how an industry could be brought together to share the very thing it is best at in order to help vulnerable people. Tony was always focussed and inspiring, but so modest about the unique charity he had created and all it has achieved.”