A resident at Whitworth House said "I'm feeling very hopeful that we are now getting somewhere and hopefully all this wasn’t for nothing”.Joe Cook

A Cambridgeshire County Council report, to be voted on by the Children’s & Young People Committee next Tuesday, has recommended that Whitworth House should continue to receive funding for the next 18 months. Varsity understands that the suggestions in the report are expected to pass at the committee meeting.

This follows an outpouring of public support for the women’s-only residential home, which has been part of Cambridge since 1998 and caters for vulnerable people between the ages of 16-25.

In December 2018 the County Council said they would not renew their contract for the service in the wake of funding cuts and the Council’s assessment that Whitworth was not a “specialist service”. Without this £65,000 per year, which pays only for the staff at the house, Orwell Housing Association, who run the service, had said they would have to close the house in June. The Council later said that no final decision had been made on the funding for Whitworth House.

The new County Council report from Adrian Chapman, Service Director for Communities and Safety at Cambridgeshire County Council, focuses on the ongoing review of Housing Related Support in Cambridgeshire.

The review is looking to implement “evidenced good practice models” and hopes to develop a new plan “by Summer 2019”. Whether Whitworth House continues to be funded after the 18 month extension will depend on if they are considered as fitting into this new plan.

Alongside redesigning services to meet people's’ “changing needs”, the review notes that the Council is looking to make significant savings. Out of an annual budget of £7.4m for adult and youth Housing Related Support, the Council had initially hoped to save £1m per year, however the report outlines that this has now been lowered to savings of £683k over the next two years.

While decisions are made over the redesign of the youth services, the report asked that the Council “seek an 18 month extension on a number of existing contracts”. Of the 11 services listed, Whitworth House is one.

Whitworth House residents spoke to Varsity back in FebruaryVarsity/Joe Cook & Merlyn Thomas

Ruth Jackson, Chair of the Whitworth Trust, a charity who support the residents, welcomed the decision to extend the house’s funding: “It is a really good outcome for us considering we would never get an indefinite extension.”

Likewise, Paul Kingston, Director of Housing and Care Services at Orwell Housing Association who run the house, 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.”

Jackson said the decision to extend the contract showed that the Council were being “much more reflective” about the service, compared to initial proposals to cut funding by the end of June. She also said that despite not being “out of the woods” yet with regards to the long term future for Whitworth House, “this does open more doors for us and allows us to get more people involved.”

County Councillors Ian Manning and Claire Richards, who have both been involved with meetings between Orwell, the Whitworth Trust and the Council, also welcomed the news. Cllr Richards emphasised the “overwhelming public response” to the proposed closure and claimed “there is little doubt that the county are losing this in the court of public opinion”.

A resident at Whitworth House told Varsity they were “all looking forward to [the committee meeting] to find out what’s happening” and they were “feeling very hopeful that we are now getting somewhere and hopefully all this wasn’t for nothing”.

However, a number of people have raised concerns about the uncertainty created around the service’s funding. Cllr Manning said how “many people were put under unnecessary stress and we need to work to make sure this uncertainty isn’t repeated, and the service is given a secure long term funding deal”.

Residents at Whitworth previously told Varsity how the whole process had left them feeling “stressed”, with little idea of “what’s happening next or where we are going”. Residents had been forced to attend interviews at other services, due to uncertainty over whether the service would remain open.

Paul Kingston of Orwell Housing also said it had “not been an easy time” with the “dynamics of the service changing” and one member of staff leaving “because of the uncertainty surrounding the funding”.


Mountain View

We should all be concerned about the closure of Whitworth House

He explained that there were currently seven vacancies in the house. “Assuming the Councillors agree the officers recommendation on 21 May”, Kingston said, Orwell “have every intention of keeping the service open and filling the vacancies”.

“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.”

In response to questions on the report, a Cambridgeshire County Council spokesperson said: “We want to make sure that the Housing Related Support Review is fully debated by our relevant committees in May. Decisions regarding the proposals will be made by councillors at that time.”