"It's the most rewarding thing I've ever done"

We sat down with Elli Bradshaw who volunteers as an Independent Person in the Youth Referral and Independent Persons Program (YRIPP), for a chat about her experience over the past year.

Elli studied to be a curator and worked in several museums in London before she moved to Melbourne. She always had a calling to work within the community and says she always felt the need to give back where she could.  She recalls one of her favourite memories of working in the arts space; taking Yoruba sculptures to elderly members of the Yoruba community.

Since then, she has floated through working in commercial art galleries and has also started her own businesses and currently co-owns Clunes, a camping store in Collingwood. When asked what inspired her to volunteer within the criminal justice system, a sector that seems quite distant from the arts and business space, you could say that it runs in her blood.

“My parents are both legal aid lawyers so the criminal justice side of things was something that was spoken about since I was a kid. I was exposed to certain elements of what YRIPP covers from a really young age.”

Elli’s worlds collided when she discovered YRIPP, “being from a CaLD background myself, I’m first generation Jamaican diaspora, and the types of people that I know get caught up in the criminal justice system, disproportionately, are people who look similar to me, so why not give back. “

As an Independent Person, Elli attends police interviews with a young person at a police station when a parent or guardian is not available. She sets her availability on a roster and gets called out to support young people at a critical time.

“You’re there because the young person can’t always advocate for themselves and if you equip them to have the agency to advocate for themselves, then as they get older they will get better at doing that.”

“You have to make sure that the young person understands their basic rights; what they can and can’t say in the interview, fingerprinting and photography. You’ve also got to work out if their English is good enough, if their cognitive abilities are good enough; you’re very much involved with the young person.”

Elli is dedicated to contributing to the community, and her genuine passion to help young people is inspiring. “I’m nosy anyway, but the stories you hear about these young people, it’s just fascinating. The hardest thing is walking away from the whole thing not knowing what happens to them, but that’s not what I’m there for,” she says.

When asked about how she balances between the two worlds – running a business and volunteering – Elli says, “everyone has the time you just have to work it out. I still have time to go to the pub like I used to before,” she laughs.

“There’s always time but it just seems to me like a no-brainer that you’d do that for someone.”

Personally, Elli says it’s the most rewarding thing she has ever done, “from doing the training to becoming an Independent Person, I’ve now gone back to university to do my Masters in Social Work and it was the right stepping stone for me.”

“If you’re in the community and you’re of a different background to the status quo of Australia, I think it’s really important to volunteer,” she says.

To anyone considering becoming a YRIPP volunteer, Elli strongly recommends self-care as she says some of the issues she’s faced can be quite confronting to some.

For more information about how to become an Independent Person, visit YRIPP.