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Dr Rowan Williams signs open letter against closure of Whitworth House


By Alex Spencer


Former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has signed an open letter to the county council demanding answers about the proposed closure of a hostel for vulnerable women.

Dr Rowan Williams, Baron Williams of Oystermouth at the Cambridge Summit for Homelessness at St Paul’s, Hills Road, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell. (7681234)
Dr Rowan Williams, Baron Williams of Oystermouth at the Cambridge Summit for Homelessness at St Paul’s, Hills Road, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell. (7681234)

As patron of the Whitworth Trust, Dr Williams has lent his support to the campaign to save the Whitworth House Hostel from closure following the threat of cuts to its budget by the county council.

In the letter, signed by Dr Williams and Whitworth Trust Chair Dr Ruth Jackson, amongst other names, it states: “For dozens of women over the last two decades, Whitworth House has been a safety net, enabling them to build a support network and regain their independence despite the loss and trauma they have suffered in early life. We strongly urge the council to look again at its rationale for cutting Whitworth House’s funding, giving due consideration to the uniqueness, effectiveness, and excellent value for money offered by this service. We also value the opportunity for dialogue, before a decision is arrived at and voted on by council members.”

Dr Rowan Williams, Baron Williams of Oystermouth at the Cambridge Summit for Homelessness at St Paul’s, Hills Road, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell. (7681176)
Dr Rowan Williams, Baron Williams of Oystermouth at the Cambridge Summit for Homelessness at St Paul’s, Hills Road, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell. (7681176)

The letter has been addressed to Lisa Sparks, commissioning manager for housing related support, who led a council review into funding of services for the homeless in Cambridge.

The review recommended that the contract for funding of Housing Related Support Services at Whitworth House not be renewed. The funding it provided was £65,000 a year to pay for support staff who work at the hostel in order to help the young women there turn their lives around, start education or training and find jobs and stables homes when they leave the hostel.

The letter asks eight questions about the council’s decision, including how they arrived at the decision and what provision would be made for the women of the hostel closed down.

It was drafted at a public meeting chaired by Ruth Jackson, chair of the Whitworth Trust, which sought to find strategies for keeping the hostel open.

Dr Jackson said: “It was a brainstorming meeting to find strategies to ensure that Whitworth House stays open. We spent a lot of time on the letter. We wanted to come up with strong questions that would highlight the arguments against closing the house and press the council on things that could be thought about a bit more.”

Cambridgeshire County Council was asked for a comment but said they would reply to the letter first.

A petition to save the hostel from closure, raised by 19-year-old resident Jade Tomlinson, has reached more than 40,000 signatures. Orwell Housing have said that if the funding is reinstated by the council they will not close the hostel.

Jade Tomlinson with the petition at Whitworth House where she has been for 8 months. Picture: Keith Heppell. (7586604)
Jade Tomlinson with the petition at Whitworth House where she has been for 8 months. Picture: Keith Heppell. (7586604)

The decision whether to cut funding for Whitworth House is set to be discussed at a Children and Young People county council committee meeting at a date yet to be specified. Meanwhile the Whitworth Trust, Orwell Housing and the council will meet later this week to discuss the future of the hostel.

Dr Jackson said: “At that meeting on Thursday (with the council and Orwell Housing we will ascertain timelines of when final decisions will be made and what all parties are willing to consider. It will be a diplomatic meeting that sets the tone for how we proceed. After that meeting we will know which strategy we need to pursue - whether that’s raising funds or critiquing the decisions around funding.”

“A brilliant outcome would be to make sure the property had a covenant on it to make sure it was kept for social housing. I am taking Orwell Housing at their word that they want to keep it running if they have the funding.”



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