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Contributed by
SoapBox

Overview

SoapBox is an open-access youth centre in Islington for young people aged 13-25, specialising in digital, media, and technology.

From April 2020, provision moved online with a programme of 25+ weekly sessions, including workshops, employment support, targeted work, and drop-ins.

The organisation’s digital outreach work engages young people through a range of online platforms, including weekly performance spaces for young musicians, masterclass activities, a creative gallery, a YouTube channel and a virtual reality youth centre.

Recipe status

This recipe has been in use since April 2020.

We are not sharing this recipe as the perfect solution to a problem, but we believe SoapBox’s learnings could be very useful to other organisations.

Users and needs served

  • As a young person, I need to choose how and when I participate in online activities
  • As a young person, I need to access a broad spectrum of online opportunities
  • As a member of staff, I need to identify the best opportunities for online delivery

Software and tools used

Instagram

Instagram is a social networking platform where users post images and videos and can follow other accounts – creating a stream of visual content.

Cost

Instagram is free to use.

Considerations

Instagram is a great platform for reaching young people.

Instagram puts young people in control: they choose whether they stay (or not) and whether they engage (or not).

Instagram provides an opportunity to showcase young people’s talents and connect them to the wider world.

To avoid things that present risks to young people’s welfare, charities should turn off the comments feature. It can be difficult to quantify impact, but tools like Slido and Mentimeter can be used to gauge the benefits for participants.

Charities will face lots of competition on Instagram so think about what content can make your charity stand out from the crowd.

YouTube

YouTube is a social media platform that enables users to post videos and browse videos from other users at their leisure.

Cost

YouTube is free to use.

Considerations

Young people really benefit from the positive feedback and view count for their content. This can lead to real growth in self-confidence and agency.

YouTube can help connect your organisation with a range of partners and creatives that they would not meet otherwise.

As with Instagram, consider how you can stand out on a platform that has billions of content views.

There is a lot of pressure to produce content that is good quality and engaging for viewers. People have come to expect visually and audibly polished content from YouTube.

Charities must maintain a regular schedule of content releases, which is challenging, but very important when trying to grow a YouTube channel.

Discord

Discord is a popular social platform for gaming-related activity, chat, and socialising. The platform is designed as a space for people to talk and create communities around their shared interests. Different communities or ‘servers’ have their own spaces, much like chat rooms. There are live text channels, voice channels, and ways to share videos, links, images, GIFs, and more.

Cost

It's free to start your own servers or join any server.

Considerations

Discord can be very useful for projects, with different channels and easy sharing facilities so that young people can show the work they are doing. This is a platform that was used by young people before the pandemic, particularly those involved in gaming, so they are comfortable with it in a way that is not the same as platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. The control features allow charities to choose who has access to what channels and content. This is not a feature that its main competitors share.

You have to be over 13 to use Discord, but they don’t check age when you sign up. So charities should require all young people to register with them before they can use this platform.

There are examples of inappropriate behaviour among Discord users, so charities should introduce a member’s agreement that each young person signs regarding acceptable behaviour.

Because the platform is used by young people beyond their time with the charity, there are risks to consider. Charities can address these by giving young people ongoing online safety training and support.

Mozilla Hubs

Mozilla Hubs is a virtual reality (VR) chat room designed for every headset and browser. It is also an open-source project that explores how communication in mixed reality can come to life.

With Mozilla Hubs, you can create a room with a single click. You can then share and access that room with a URL.

Cost

Mozilla Hubs is free as a base-level piece of software, but the principal cost would be designing the space. SoapBox’s hub has been designed to a very high standard, so the cost attached to getting this level of design could be in the region of £5000-8000.

However, this is where you can engage with university students or service users who are keen to try out this software and learn how to use it. They may be willing to work with you at a lower cost.

Considerations

As opposed to any other major platform being used by young people to access online learning during the pandemic, content created on Mozilla Hubs can be personalised, opening up the possibility that spaces can be designed and built by young people, for young people.

You can’t personalise most mainstream video conferencing platforms, but this is a space that charities can customise. You can build a virtual version of your real-world venue.

All the major video conferencing platforms are linear in nature, following a turn-based approach that isn’t accurate to how we talk in the real world. Mozilla Hubs VR is a 3D audio space that facilitates real-world communication without taking turns or having to use breakout rooms.

Designing in 3D requires a specialist set of skills.

People are often nervous about innovations like virtual reality and feel out of their depth.

Because it is quite complex to create, there are costs involved in creating a high-quality design.

Recipe steps

1. Analyse how you’ll go virtual

Imagine how your service can translate to a virtual space, and what it could look like with the software or tools available to you.

What do you feel resonates best with the audience you want to engage and what would work best online?

Have conversations with your service users and produce ideas for virtual work from these conversations. Don’t use software just for the sake of it, but keep a purpose in mind when deciding what software and tools you’ll use.

Consider allocating tasks to different teams to spread the workload across your entire organisation.

2. Continue your outreach

Using Instagram for outreach work can be effective for youth centres. Youth centres can onboard more young people to engage in their activities because many young people use Instagram.

The joy of this process being virtual is that you’re able to find people who wouldn’t normally come to the centre.

3. Identify your niche

Many youth centres have social media accounts because this is where young people tend to gather online.

Furthermore, as a charity, you can’t always compete with the bigger companies in the virtual world.

Make sure that you are distinguishing yourself and that you demonstrate what you are in a unique position to offer.

4. Develop your accounts

Identify the differences between social platforms and tailor the content you want to produce to the software you are using.

Be specific about the content you want to produce and the channels you want to use to host it.

Don’t try and do everything you do on all your accounts. Decide which platform a particular piece of content is best suited to and promote it there.

5. Challenge your ideas

Don’t assume that your own ideas are the best way of doing things. Look at platforms that you aren’t using and always consider how you could update your work.

Get inspired by looking at what other similar charities are doing.

Think outside the box when trying to use new software.

6. Look into who you can work with

Expand and utilise your network. Don’t think that you have to do this all yourself; it’s OK if you don’t have all these skills. There are digital agencies, young people who want experience, professionals who want to do pro-bono work, and university students looking for placements. You can call upon these people to help your project.

7. Ensure safeguarding

Create a risk assessment as a live working document subject to continual review. Look at the specifics of each of the platforms that you use and the individual constraints and challenges. Have dedicated team members to manage the risks and mediate the platforms you’re working on. Understand what boundaries to have for each of the virtual spaces you offer to users. Think about which platforms may cause issues.

8. Impact measurement

Do some impact reporting to measure whether you’re reaching your desired outcomes. It can be tricky to do impact reporting for some of these platforms. Utilise your network for advice.

Guidance

Don’t try to be a jack of all trades. You don’t have to do everything. Pick a few platforms and consolidate your offering there.

Use the skills of the people you work with and make connections with people who can help.

Don’t be afraid to fail: embrace it and learn from it.

Be open to new ideas and ways of doing things.

Risks

You might be setting yourself up to fail if you try and do everything at once. Have an incremental view of your goals.

Some platforms may feel impersonal.

The online world can pose challenges with unwelcome comments or trolling to yourself or users. Make sure you have moderation processes in place.

Points of contact

For further information about this recipe, you can contact:

James Dellow Digital Amplifier

Thanks

Many thanks to SoapBox for contributing this recipe.

Licence

This recipe is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.

That means you are free to copy, redistribute, and build on the text of this recipe, but only for non-commercial purposes (if you want to use it for commercial purposes, get in touch with us at [email protected]). You must give credit to both Catalyst and SoapBox and link back to this page. If you build on this recipe then you must share your version under this same licence.

Recipe published on April 16th, 2021. Last updated April 21st, 2021