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Whitworth House hostel for vulnerable women could be saved thanks to petition

A teenage campaigner is hopeful that the hostel for vulnerable women where she lives could be saved from closure after her petition has reached more than 40,000 signatures.

Jade Tomlinson with the petition at Whitworth House where she has been for 8 months. Picture: Keith Heppell. (7610031)
Jade Tomlinson with the petition at Whitworth House where she has been for 8 months. Picture: Keith Heppell. (7610031)

The women-only Whitworth House was put at risk of being closed down after Cambridgeshire County Council warned owners Orwell Housing that they would not be renewing their funding contract in June this year.

But after the Cambridge Independent highlighted the issue, there has been a massive response to the petition started by 19-year-old Whitworth House resident Jade Tomlinson and the county council will now ask a committee to reconsider the funding cut.

Jade said: “It is amazing how many people have signed the petition – it has really taken off. We are going to see now if we can send it to the council.

“I’ve already had a meeting with people at the council and they say the final decision about the funding has not been made yet. So that has given me quite a lot of hope.

“If they do decide not to stop the funding, that will be a life-changing decision for all of us who live here and will put our minds at rest.”

The hostel is for women aged 16-25 who are at risk of homelessness. Withdrawal of £65,000 a year by the county council would mean Orwell Housing could no longer keep the service running.

All of the 15 young women who currently live in the hostel would have to move out, potentially being forced to stay in mixed hostels with men or face homelessness.

Paul Kingston, director of housing and care services at Orwell Housing, said: “If the funding continues, then of course we will keep Whitworth House open.

“We never had any intention of closing the service until we were notified that the contract would not be renewed. But without the funding we can’t pay support staff who run the house.”

Fundraisers at the Whitworth Trust, a charity that supports women facing homelessness, say the petition has had a huge impact.

Ruth Jackson, chair of the Whitworth Trust, said: “I’m not daring to hope too much but people are compelled by this campaign –the amount of support we have had is overwhelming and most of it is down to the women in the house.

“They have been really strong and have articulated what it means to them to have this support so well, and they are just telling the truth.

“They have convinced a lot of people that this service is important and it is a service that isn’t taken for granted by the women that live there. They have done all that work to raise this issue – now it is time for us to help them.

“Time is short but we think we could still affect the council’s decision on funding. We are trying to make sure we are talking to the right people and getting a strong set of constructive arguments against closing the house.”

She and other campaigners are gathering advice and support from other charities in the city, representatives from local community organisations, housing services and politicians to build a strategy that will keep the house open, even if council funding is withdrawn.

Cambridgeshire County Council said the decision regarding Whitworth House’s funding would be discussed by councillors at a Children and Young People Committee in the near future, with the date yet to be agreed for this to happen.

A spokesperson for Cambridgeshire County Council added: “Following a Housing Related Support review, the council set out its funding proposals to allow the contract with Whitworth House to reach its natural conclusion in June 2019.

“Our £65,000 contribution to Orwell Housing is to support the needs of some of the young people living there. It doesn’t fund their accommodation or building, which is covered by the rental and service charges set by Orwell Housing.

“As part of the HRS review, we are looking at good practice models from around the country that help vulnerable homeless people regain their independence and find long- term homes, rather than relying on short-term supported accommodation options.”

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