A petition against the closure of the House has raised over 40,000 signaturesJoe Cook

On Tuesday 5th March, around 45 members of the Cambridge community gathered to discuss the future of Whitworth House, a women’s-only residential home for vulnerable people between the ages of 16-25.

The open meeting occurred after Whitworth House’s current owner, Orwell Housing Association, claimed that it was no longer a sustainable service to run in the wake of County Council funding cuts.

The meeting was directed by Ruth Jackson, Chairperson of Whitworth Trust, a charity that has supported Whitworth House since it opened in 1998. She stated that solutions must be found to “stop the house closing and more widely safeguard provision in the city” for vulnerable young women.

Whitworth House: Varsity

Claire Richards, County Cllr for Castle Division and subsequently Councillor for the residents of Whitworth, commended the “extraordinary young women” who live there. She gave particular praise to one resident whose petition against the closure has raised over 40,000 signatures.

Since the meeting, an open letter has been composed by the Whitworth Trust which aims to make the County Council reconsider its decision to withdraw funding. The letter is addressed to Lisa Sparks, Commissioning Manager of Housing Related Support at the County Council, and argues that Whitworth House is a “unique, effective and inexpensive service”.

The letter notes that Whitworth House only costs the County Council “£11.87 per resident per day”.

Ruth Jackson reported that the council told residents that they were “certainly open to discussion” on the matter, and emphasised that the funding cut is only proposed.

Ahead of a meeting next week between Whitworth Trust, Orwell Housing and the County Council, the letter poses eight questions that vary from the transition plan for current residents should Whitworth House close, to questioning the council’s claim that the house has failed to demonstrate “strategic relevance”.

Rowan Williams and Nicola Padfield, Master of Fitzwilliam College, are among those who have already signed the letter, with members of the public able to sign it here.

The County Council emphasised to Varsity that they are only responsible for funding the two staff that work at Whitworth House. They noted that Orwell Housing have a number of different income streams for the house and are responsible for making the final decision as to whether to close the house.

Ruth Jackson, Chairperson of Whitworth Trust, is one of the authors of the open letter.Joe Cook

Orwell Housing accepted that it was their final decision whether or not Whitworth House closes. However, they said they had been clear to the council that losing £65,000 would “lead [them] to closing” the house, considering this funding makes up 38% of the total running cost for 2018.

The meeting saw visible frustration surrounding the possibility of Orwell Housing Association selling the property. Frustrations were heightened as it was only in 2014 when the community raised £128,000 for an extension to the house.

Two Cambridge-based estate agents are said to have already visited the property.

Rod Cantrill, City Councillor for Newnham suggested the City Council could purchase the property. Speaking to Varsity, Cantrill stated that “the City Council is a key housing provider. A solution could be found in the council buying the house for the city and getting someone else to run it.”

It also transpired in the open meeting that the County Council did not consult Jimmy’s or Centre 33, two organisations who refer women to Whitworth House, before proposing to withdraw funding.

The council said that an “impact assessment has been completed” and that as their contract with Orwell is coming to an end they “would not talk to other providers about this decision, which could involve commercially sensitive and confidential information.”

There is additional confusion around what led to the initial proposal to withdraw funding for Whitworth House. The County Council recently told the Cambridge Independent they were looking, as part of the Housing Related Support review, to help vulnerable homeless people with “long term homes” as opposed to “relying on short term supported accommodation options” such as Whitworth House.

However a County Council briefing seen by Varsity gave St. Basil’s Pathway, an organisation based in the West Midlands, as an example of “established best practice” that was to be used to “influence redesign of Young Person’s HRS services in Cambridge”. Alongside other services, St. Basil’s Pathway operates supported accommodation for young people for up to two years, the same model operated by Whitworth House since 1998.

When asked about this, the council did not comment on the similarities between the two services, but reiterated that their review suggested Whitworth House “did not provide good value”. They said that “St Basil Pathway promotes a single point of access for supported housing services” and that some services in Cambridgeshire are “not able to address the needs of some groups such as those with more complex needs”.


Mountain View

We should all be concerned about the closure of Whitworth House

The County Council, Orwell Housing and the Whitworth Trust are set to meet next Thursday to discuss the service. Paul Kingston, Director of Housing and Care services at Orwell Housing told Varsity he was “relatively optimistic that the meeting will have a positive outcome” and confirmed that, “if the funding continues, then of course we will keep Whitworth House open.”

A spokesperson for the County Council said they “always listen to feedback from our local communities and welcome petitions – we recognise that they are one way in which residents can let us know their concerns.”

The open letter from the Whitworth Trust can be signed here.