Tony Denison, founder of a charity that turned vacant buildings into temporary homeless shelters, has died aged 89
Named among the AJ’s Men of the Year in 1961, when he was working at Cape Building Products, Denison later founded Crash, the Construction Industry Relief and Assistance for the Single Homeless, in 1991 following an epiphany on the way to a gala performance at the Royalty Theatre, London.
Speaking to the AJ in January 1994, Denison recalled the moment he had the idea for the ground-breaking charity, which, after receiving early support through the government’s Rough Sleepers Initiative, was supported almost exclusively by the construction industry. He said: ‘It was a very cold November night, and there were masses of people in doorways. I felt it was absurd and obscene that people should be living in this way. I’ve worked in the construction industry all my life and I felt we should be capable of doing something about it.’
It was absurd and obscene that people should be living in this way
Shortly afterwards he spoke to friends he had made in the voluntary sector, while running Housing and Construction Research Associates, to find out what help was urgently required. He then contacted construction company bosses and persuaded Trafalgar House and Laing to get involved. Just weeks after his theatre visit, two cold-weather shelters for rough sleepers opened in central London.
A year later the charity ran six ‘direct access’ shelters and, with the backing of Barbour Index founder Patrick Barbour and London Building Centre director John George, over the years assisted thousands of homeless and vulnerable people in the UK.
Describing how he encouraged owners to hand over empty properties, Denison explained: ‘[Owners] pay no rates while the shelter is operating; if there is a leaky roof it is put right; the building is heated through the winters and the boilers are maintained. Almost invariably the buildings are handed back
in better condition than before.’
Awarded an MBE in 1994 for services to single homeless people, he stepped down as a Crash trustee in 2002.
Denison served in the SAS in the Western Desert in World War II, later working briefly for a stockbroker before joining manufacturer Cape Building Products as sales director.
Denison once told the AJ he was ‘glad he didn’t train to be an architect’ but admitted he found the DIY trend ‘a disease almost impossible to stop’.
Denison is survived by Ann, his second wife, and daughters Amanda, Tessa and Jassy.