Turning emergency housing into homes

A Highams Park charity is redecorating the homes of domestic abuse victims with high-end furniture
By Victoria Munro

Highams Park founder Emily Wheeler (credit: Furnishing Futures)
Highams Park founder Emily Wheeler (credit: Furnishing Futures)

Women and children who have fled domestic abuse can have their homes redecorated with high-end furniture for free, thanks to a new charity.

Furnishing Futures aims to stop families going into debt replacing the belongings they had to leave behind or even returning to their abuser out of desperation.

Founder Emily Wheeler, a former social worker and interior stylist from Highams Park, gives the families she helps creative control and high-quality goods donated by brands like Selfridges.

After three years working to get the project off the ground, Furnishing Futures registered as a charity last November and hopes to one day be able to refurbish a new home every week.

Emily told the Echo women rehoused by their local council after fleeing abuse are given “completely empty properties” with “no flooring, curtains, appliances and definitely no furniture”.

An empty home given to a domestic abuse victim (credit: Furnishing Futures)

She said: “It’s very difficult to look after your children in those circumstances. When I was working in children’s social care, I saw a number of women, whose lives were at risk, end up going back to the perpetrator because of that.

“It’s not enough to give people one or two basic items when they have lost everything; they need a whole home, somewhere they can feel safe. We give them everything they need, including cutlery, towels and artwork, which takes away a whole layer of stress and breaks the cycle of poverty.

“It’s also really important that these women have got some choice about what we do because, when you have had all your choices taken away, it’s very disempowering. We ask them what they like and I try to match as many as I can with a volunteer designer.”

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The same home redecorated (credit: Furnishing Futures)

The Echo spoke to one woman supported by Furnishing Futures, who fled domestic abuse with her two daughters in August last year and was moved to the borough by another London council.

She told the Echo: “The help Emily has given me in such a small amount of time is absolutely shocking, she’s a godsend.

“Before we were introduced, I felt so down that my children had to live here. We were sleeping in the living room because the carpet in the bedroom was soiled with faeces, urine and blood.

“Emily got them cleaned and gave us rugs to put down and got me a washing machine, table and chairs, a hoover and lampshades. It’s only her that made me feel like this place could be livable.”

(Credit: Furnishing Futures)

Emily says the fledgling project has so far refurbished 20 full homes and is redecorating a seven-bedroom refuge owned by local domestic abuse charity Kiran Support Services.

Thankfully, her previous work in the interior design industry means it is not difficult to convince designers, brands and stylists to donate a continuous stream of surplus stock.

She said: “Our project really caught the imagination of the industry because it gives them a good, sustainable way to use things that would otherwise end up in landfill and they know we’re doing something really good with it.

“It’s really important that the women have nice things. When you’ve already been through trauma and somebody gives you something that looks shabby, it doesn’t do much for your self-esteem.

“What we really need now is a warehouse, a van and volunteers because we’re growing faster than I can keep up with things. The plan is to get to the point where we’re able to do one full home a week, plus support other families that just need bits and bobs.”

Find out more about Furnishing Futures on their website.

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