How Bridge It's Cocoon program is transforming the lives of young women in Melbourne

Bridge It _Igniting Change
Richard Branson, Jane Tewson and Radek Sali visit Carla Reynes and members of her team at the Bridge It 'Cocoon' residence in Melbourne.
Clare Kelly
by Clare Kelly
16 April 2024
Bridge It is an Australian-based charity on a mission end youth homelessness.

Through ‘The Cocoon’ – it’s flagship housing program – Bridge It is supporting young women who are at risk of experiencing homelessness, and helping them build their own successful, happy, and independent lives.

Carla Raynes and her twin sister, Jenna, had been working in the homelessness sector for 15 years when they decided to build Bridge It. Their dream (now a reality) was to create homes and provide support to young women who didn’t have a support network around them.

Virgin Unite is proud to support Bridge It and the incredible work it does, and on a recent trip to Australia, Richard Branson visited the first ever Cocoon residence in Melbourne.

Along with friends and colleagues, including Jane Tewson, Founder of Igniting Change, and Radek Sali, Chairman at Light Warrior Group, Richard saw first-hand the impact this transformative approach to homelessness is having.

“I felt very fortunate to visit a Cocoon in Melbourne and to meet some of the wonderful people who have benefitted from the initiative. We shared stories and ambitions, and it was clear to me how cared-for and at-home they felt. I’m so pleased that Virgin Unite backed Bridge It’s very first Cocoon back in 2022 and we all sincerely hope to see Cocoons all over Australia in the coming years,” said Richard Branson.

The team at Bridge It has a mix of lived-experience and professional wisdom in the youth homelessness space and view ‘lived’ expertise as the critical element in the success of their programs.

Members of the Bridge It community  use the Cocoon facility in Melbourne
Members of the Bridge It community use the Cocoon facility in Melbourne

“Having staff members with lived-experience helps us guide program design and engage residents, adapting the program to best meet needs. In addition to this, having our ‘Lived Experience Advisory Committee’ means that Cocoon programming is expertly guided every step of the way” says Jenna.

The Cocoon building is owned by community housing provider, HousingFirst, and Bridge It provides the wrap around support, including access to lived-experience peer mentoring, social worker support, cooking groups, massage therapies, and pathways into long term housing and employment.

The revolutionary Cocoon model has become a shining example within the sector of a high impact youth homelessness program with the potential to be rapidly scaled across Australia (and the UK). “The Cocoon in Melbourne has been operating for two years now and in that time, we have provided 11 young women with a home. All of them have now moved into long term housing within the community, with the ability to maintain it,” says Carla.

Bridge It’s vision is to have a Cocoon offering in every state of Australia, for all homelessness support to be life-changing and long-lasting and, ultimately, to end youth homelessness in Australia.

To learn more about Bridge It’s work and how you can support, visit their website, and join the team as they support ‘Youth Homelessness Matters Day’.