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Whitworth House house women's hostel in Cambridge may be offered funding lifeline

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A women’s hostel which was facing closure due to council cuts looks set to be granted an 18 month reprieve.

Following a campaign to save the service at Whitworth House, including a petition with more than 3,000 signatures, Cambridgeshire County Council officers have recommended the hostel’s funding contract be extended. Councillors will vote on the decision next week.

Jade Tomlinson with the petition at Whitworth House where she has been for 8 months. Picture: Keith Heppell. (10291859)
Jade Tomlinson with the petition at Whitworth House where she has been for 8 months. Picture: Keith Heppell. (10291859)

Ruth Jackson, Chair of the Whitworth Trust homelessness charity which supports the hostel, thanked the Cambridge Independent for backing their campaign to save the hostel, saying: “Without your front page support this wouldn't have got off the ground."

They have also received strong backing from the refugee charity CamCrag, students, local councillors and homelessness campaigners.

Ruth added the charity was “cautiously optimistic” that councillors would approve the recommendation at a Children and Young Persons committee meeting next week. And she said they were “extremely glad to see this recommendation go to the committee. It shows a real development in thought from the council officers and members discussing the future of supported housing provision in the County, and a real willingness to engage in dialogue with local agencies.”

The service for vulnerable women aged 16-24, had been threatened with closure after the County Council announced plans to withdraw Housing Related Support funding, which paid for support staff to work on site with clients.

The Whitworth Trust, Ruth Jackson. Picture: Keith Heppell. (10291914)
The Whitworth Trust, Ruth Jackson. Picture: Keith Heppell. (10291914)

Hostel resident Jade Tomlinson, 19, started the petition to save Whitworth House earlier this year when she realised she may have to leave her home. She said: “I was really happy when I heard the news. I was almost crying because it made it feel more like we were actually getting somewhere. Last time I had an update a couple of weeks ago the council we had got no further with the talks.

“Everyone keeps saying it is all thanks to me, but obviously it is to do with all of us just pulling together at the hardest of times.”

The stress of not knowing whether she would become homeless at the end of June caused Jade to have to leave her college course. But with hope of the horizon, she is now starting to do volunteering work with a mental health charity.

She said: “I will just take that extra time here to regain my confidence and get myself into a better place so I am able to move on more easily. Not like in the current situation where we are being forced into moving.”

If proposals are approved at the meeting next week, the council says it will use the 18 months to look at its Housing Related Support budget and see that service changes are “implemented in a managed and timely way”, according to agenda documents.

The council needs to find £683k in savings from its Housing Related Support budget and, as the women’s hostel service is not a statutory requirement they can legally refuse to renew the contract to support Whitworth House.

The council report adds: “We have established a working group to look at service redesign, which will include a range of relevant local providers and partners. This group will be able to influence and comment on the proposed new model for Cambridge.”

Orwell Housing, who run the Whitworth House Hostel, had only just been told of the proposed extension as we went to press. Their spokesperson, Paul Kingston, said: “Orwell are ‘over the moon’ about the change of direction from the Council. We never wanted the service to close in the first instance and have been humbled by the support Orwell have had from the Cambridge community.”

He added: “We have unfortunately lost one of our members of staff because of the uncertainty regarding funding and the residents who have remained in Whitworth House have been very anxious and unsettled throughout the period of uncertainty. I wish to pay tribute to the Manager and staff of the service and the Cambridge community for persevering with this. It has not been an easy time but I believe common sense has prevailed.

"The council will wish to carry on with their strategic reviews of the services they fund and this will undoubtedly include future re-provisioning. Historically, Whitworth House has played an important role in providing much needed accommodation and support for young woman in Cambridge and highly valued by everybody that has been involved with it and I would like to think that the house has a future beyond the 18 month extension. However, I cannot reiterate enough the importance of continuing funding for the support service that is provided there and if that is removed at a future date then Orwell will need, as it has said before, to consider its options. ”

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