Merton Council helps start up award-winning charity

A charity supported by Merton Council, which helps ex-offenders, has been short listed for a top London Councils award.

Vision Housing, based at the council’s Vestry Hall, has received £500 from the prestigious Andy Ludlow Homelessness Awards after founder Annys Darkwa managed to find homes for a total of 113 former prisoners.

Annys – an ex-offender herself – started up the charity after she experienced difficulties in finding somewhere to live when she came out of prison. Her first office was the back seat of her car, and she met her first clients in coffee shops, until she applied for help and support from Merton Council and Merton Voluntary Service Council (MSVC).

Vestry Hall provides people wanting to start up charities with a furnished office – including telephones, computers, printers and internet access – completely free. The council building gives not-for-profit organisations the facilities they need to develop as well as an office address, something they must have if they want to apply for charity status.

Annys said: “It is simply wonderful to be able to work from Vestry Hall. It had been very unsatisfactory having to meet clients in busy coffee shops, especially as a lot of the things they wanted to talk to me about were confidential. It is great having an office where I can interview people privately and working at Vestry Hall means I can also take on volunteers – many of whom are also ex-offenders – to help me.

“Since I moved in things have developed incredibly fast. I have achieved charity status and I have moved out of the free office and now rent a much bigger office, also in Vestry Hall. The support I get here is fantastic. Everyone does everything they can to help.”

Merton Council’s cabinet member for community safety and engagement, Councillor Tariq Ahmad said: “I am delighted we were able to help Annys start up her charity and help vulnerable people find somewhere to live.

“Encouraging and supporting those who have the vision and initiative to set up their own not-for-profit organisations is a vital part of our commitment to put our residents’ needs first, and to provide them with the best value services possible. Charities such as Vision Housing help the whole community by housing former prisoners and encouraging them not to re-offend.”

MSVC director Chris Frost said: “The work Annys is doing is extremely valuable and this is shown by her being shortlisted for this prestigious award. Through her hard work she is helping some of our most vulnerable residents find homes and stay out of prison. I am delighted that the MSVC, along with Merton Council, have been able to help her in turning Vision Housing into such a success.”

For more information about Vestry Hall contact Carol Warren on 0208 640 7274.