Sunday, 23rd November 2014

Time running out for ‘vital’ charity group

IN the past year, a small charity in Shrewsbury has reached out to more than 3,750 people, and had an impact on the lives of more than 10,000 individuals.

David Doonan and volunteer Simon DaveyDavid Doonan and volunteer Simon Davey

The group, known as SHARP (Support, Help and Advice for Relatives and friends of Prisoners) based at Fletcher House, on College Hill, provides free confidential advice, as well as practical and emotional support and friendship, for the relatives of those serving sentences, awaiting trial or facing the prospect of legal action.

It was founded in 1998 and has developed into a co-ordinated organisation with four staff, five trustees and 22 volunteers. But time is running out for the charity which is fighting to keep its doors open after falling into financial difficulty. It’s running costs are between £8,000 and £10,000 a month.

If no more funding can be found, the charity will cease to exist by Christmas. Simon Davey, an ex-offender and former SHARP client who now works as a support and family welfare volunteer with the charity, told the Chronicle its loss would leave a big hole.

“We are a small charity which is struggling financially and despite our best efforts, we are down to three month’s money in the bank,” he said.

“We are already three to four weeks away from giving notice to the staff and the situation is very dire now.

“We are struggling to get grant funding. We have applied to 300 grant-making bodies in the past four months and have only received £500. We have got six large grant applications outstanding at the moment.”

He added: “We acknowledge that most people are in prison because of their own actions. But, keep a support network for the prisoner throughout the period of custody and you cut their likelihood of returning to custody by more than 70 per cent.

“If a family member or friend contacts us then we can help. If a prisoner has the courage to admit the impact of what they have done on those around them and approach us for help, then we are delighted. This happens frequently.”

And Mr Davey, 29, said he is an example of how SHARP can help you get back on your feet.

“I defrauded my employer and spent eight months in prison. It’s a very isolating place when you don’t have anyone around you,” he said.

“I contacted SHARP as my family were upset with me at what I had done and for quite some time they wouldn’t speak to me.

“SHARP helped me communicate with my parents. I work voluntarily with SHARP which has given me self confidence and post prison credibility. They’ve given me a lot of responsibility and I have a daily routine.”

As well as running a telephone helpline, the charity accompanies people on prison visits; provides support at court; compiles Family Impact Statements to present to the judge prior to sentencing; and runs help desks at Shrewsbury Crown Court and Birmingham Crown Court.

Mr Davey added: “What we do is needed. What we do is unpopular, but imperative. There is not a single statutory body doing what we do and no other organisation provides our model of support.

“Cut family ties and wider support networks and you disintegrate social capital. We have seen the impacts of this in recent weeks on the streets of our towns and cities.

“Please help keep SHARP going. More than 10,000 individuals will suffer if we don’t.”

Any businesses or individuals who wish to help with donations should contact the charity on 01743 245365 or email info@sharpuk.org

To find out more visit http://www.sharpuk.org/

By Charlotte Hester