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Whitworth House all-women's hostel campaigners will fight on to keep it open

Campaigners trying to secure the future of a women’s hostel in Cambridge say they will fight on to keep it open after it won an 18 month reprieve.

Whitworth House hostel in Chesterton was set to close next month after Cambridgeshire County Council threatened to pull its funding for staff at the site.

The Whitworth Trust, Ruth Jackson. Picture: Keith Heppell. (10838055)
The Whitworth Trust, Ruth Jackson. Picture: Keith Heppell. (10838055)

But at a committee meeting on Tuesday (May 21) councillors voted unanimously to accept a new proposal to extend its funding contract for 18 months in order to review the service.

Now Labour county councillor Clare Richard, who represents Castle Division in which Whitworth House is situated, says: “I welcome the 18 months extension but I am obviously going to do all I can to work with others to fight to keep Whitworth House open because it is a key provision in Cambridgeshire for women who are victims of domestic abuse and violence and have a need for all female accommodation.

“Whitworth House has largely been created by the community for that reason,so why are we even considering removing the funding?”

The council u-turn comes after months of campaigning by hostel residents, Whitworth Trust, local councillors, homeless charities and students to keep the service running.

Hostel resident Jade Tomlinson created a petition to save the hostel that attracted more than 40,000 signatures.

Jade Tomlinson with the petition at Whitworth House where she has been for 8 months. Picture: Keith Heppell. (10838108)
Jade Tomlinson with the petition at Whitworth House where she has been for 8 months. Picture: Keith Heppell. (10838108)

Dr Ruth Jackson, chair of the Whitworth Trust charity which supports the hostel, said in a statement to the Children and Young Person’s committee they were “pleased to see this prospect of a short-term contract renewal for Whitworth House, and grateful to Council officers and members for listening not only to our concerns these past few months, but also to the voices of Whitworth House residents themselves, who have been articulate and clear in their support for the service.”

She added: “We are both hopeful and determined that something can be done to keep Whitworth House open in the long term.”

And she said the council must show “a renewed commitment in our city to safeguarding and improving provision for homeless women. This includes the provision of all-female spaces, like that provided by Whitworth House.”

She added that “research by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission has shown that many women in difficult situations would not have accessed support services if they had not been women-only.

“This is a central reason we hope that the service will be funded long into the future.”

The county council originally decided not to renew their contract with Orwell Housing, owners of Whitworth House, after a spending review of their Housing Related Support budget.

The council aims to reduce the budget by £680k and had earmarked a number of services for the homeless to stop receiving funding or have their funding reduced.

Following the outcry, some services, including Whitworth House, have been given a funding extension while a ‘redesign’ of provision takes place.

A spokesperson for Cambridgeshire County Council said: “Whitworth House will now be included in the redesign of services for young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness and this will include partners and providers. The redesign of young people’s services in line with national best practice will potentially mean a significant change in how they and how other young people services are currently run. A new service offer should improve outcomes for young people and meet identified gaps in service provision. This will then be subject to a competitive tender process, which any providers will be able to take part in.”

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