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Barnardo’s are finding new ways to keep engaging with care-experienced young people (including care leavers) during the COVID-19 lockdown and beyond. Like many other charities delivering front line support during the lockdown, social distancing restrictions have meant a shift from mostly face-to-face activities to an entirely remote digital-based set up.

The Service Design Team at Barnardo’s have been running the Plymouth Care Journeys Design Lab with local care-experienced young people to co-produce and test ways to reduce loneliness and social isolation for other care-experienced young people in the area. This recipe looks at how Barnado’s shifted their indoors Social Spatula cooking classes online as well as general tips on digital engagement with young people. You can check out how Barnardo’s are facilitating remote outdoor activities by checking out their Wild-Plym Remote Nature Walks Recipe.

Before lockdown, the Care Journeys Design Lab had been working together in Plymouth developing ideas to reduce loneliness and social isolation for care-experienced young people such as ‘The Social Spatula Project’ – cooking classes run by and for care-experienced young people and ‘ Wild Plym’ – a local adventures club that teaches survival skills and plans routes togethers, meeting up before and after walks in local cafes. Read more about the Care Journeys Design Lab and how they work.

Image showing the Social Spatula Project logo

Recipe status

This recipe has been in use since March 2020.

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

Users and needs served

  • As a care-experienced young person, I need people I can rely on and spend time with so that I am less isolated and/or don’t feel lonely.
  • As a care-experienced young person, I need to shop and cook for myself.
  • As a member of staff, I need to find ways to keep engaging with our care-experienced young people so that they are less isolated and/ or don’t feel lonely.
  • As a member of staff, I need to find different ways to engage with young people whilst adhering to COVID-19 restrictions so that I can still offer them any support that they may need.

Software and tools used

Facebook Messenger

Facebook Messenger (also known as ‘Messenger’) is a free mobile app used for instant messaging. Also accessible through the web browser, you can also share photos, videos, audio recordings and create group chats. In the context of Plymouth Care Journeys, Barnardos are using Messenger to run the lab remotely with young people and for Social Spatula and Wild Plym online messenger groups.




  • Facebook Messenger is free with any Facebook Account.
  • Chats can be started without the need of using phone numbers.
  • The mobile app is available across multiple mobile operating systems - e.g. Apple, Android.
  • Most young people and workers are already familiar with how to use it so there is less of a learning curve.
  • Allows for group video calls (and for participants to join in without video)
  • The groups can be muted so young people and workers can control the flow of messages
  • You can ring-fence groups to ‘friends only’ which means that only certain members can join the group. This is good for security and ensuring the safety of the group.


Instagram is a free photo and video sharing application available on multiple platforms such as web browser, smartphones and tablets. Instagram is used for Barnardo’s’ weekly #creativelockdown2020 challenges which are run by the lab team. The account is managed by young people and workers in the Design Lab team.




Creative submissions are not exclusively for care-experienced young people – service workers and friends of care-experienced young people have been getting involved too – opening up new connections and growing their community.

It’s a safe space for creative expression. The account is private and submissions are only accepted through inbox entries and tagged posts. This way, they are able to control the content and delete or not share anything that is unsafe.

The account raises the visibility of the Plymouth Design Lab and opens up a space for more young people to get involved

Recipe steps

1. Setting up youth-led cooking groups

  • Define your budget for running the online group – will you be buying ingredients and prizes? What rate and how will you be paying youth colleagues to co-run it?
  • Recruit 2-3 youth colleagues to facilitate the group. Agree on their roles and responsibilities and the payment they will receive
  • Define how the group will run and plan what your first few sessions will look like, including what supplies you might need, your safeguarding processes and your recruitment process
  • Develop a brand for the group and create a logo, a poster with information and clear steps for young people to sign up

2. Invite participants

  • Send out emails / invites to participants to the cooking class. Include any links and passwords if needed.
  • Make sure workers arrange 1-1 introductory calls with every young person before they join the online group. If the young person is under 18 this should include their parent or carer too. This gives both the young person and workers facilitating the groups a chance to get to know each other, set expectations and feel confident the young person will benefit, before they join the online group.
  • Invite participants to join the online group you have set up – Barnado’s use Facebook messenger but it could be Whatsapp, Discord, Slack etc.

3. Establish some ground rules

Set up a group agreement and agree some group rules (which are best co-produced) to ensure everyone knows what to expect and what behaviour is expected

Make sure you let the existing groups know when new people are joining or why people have left – this creates a culture of transparency and trust which care-experienced young people may not have experienced many times before.

4. Run a cooking challenge

Keep the challenges simple and don’t rely on young people needing lots of equipment or ingredients – for example, cook a meal with peppers in it, cook a meal with the colour yellow in it, cook the fastest dinner possible, a drink you’ve made Set a weekly challenge so everyone can get involved when they feel like it.

Try to get everyone involved, including workers – this creates a more equal power dynamic between everyone.

Try running a weekly video call with activities that encourage conversation such as favourite food bingo or having a cup of tea together.

5. Cakes and kindness challenge

This is to empower care-experienced young people to help others.

Facilitate a conversation with your youth colleagues about what you could do as a group to support people in your local area. For example, a ‘cakes and kindness challenge’ where you deliver a cake to a neighbour or someone you know going through a tough time

Create a digital poster for your challenge – ‘Bake a cake and brighten someone’s day!’

Upload the poster to your digital group and ask young people to post a thumbs up emoji if they want to take part

Once you have your final numbers privately message young people for their addresses

Buy boxes of cake mix and deliver them to local young people. Many care-experienced young people may not have the means to buy their own ingredients. If young people don’t live locally you can explore sending them a digital voucher or making an online order. If young people want to make their own cakes from scratch or want to modify for dietary requirements that’s ok too! The key here is to be flexible and inclusive.

Set a one week deadline to make the cake and deliver it to someone with a note

Ask each young person to post a photo of their cake and to share what the cake recipient said on your cooking challenge group.

Debrief together on your next video call or ask the group in the chat ‘what did you get out of this week’s cake and kindness challenge?’


The Care Journeys Team in Barnardo’s have provided general tips on digital engagement with young people as well as guidance for implementing this recipe well.

Cooking challenges can be expensive. Make sure cooking challenges only require easy to find, inexpensive ingredients or plan to buy ingredients for care-experienced participants.

Meet young people where they are – use platforms they are familiar with or already use to reduce barriers for them to get involved. The team has found that it doesn’t actually matter what platform you use, as long as it does what you need and is safe .

Involve young people in planning and running online groups to make sure the content and platforms you use is engaging and relevant.

Keep groups small – no more than 4-6 people. Once groups get bigger than this (online or offline) they become less intimate and it becomes harder to create strong bonds. So, instead of adding more and more young people to one group, create clusters to maintain intimacy as you scale.

Be playful – play games together, be silly, dance, tell bad (or good!) jokes, this is as important as ‘doing things’ together.

Create regular reflection sessions to learn and adapt to young people’s changing needs and ensure you iterate regularly.

Your role as a worker is to provide structure, energy and facilitate co-production. This includes things like setting up a schedule for the time you work together (based on what works for the group), providing structure for planning sessions, accountability setting, emotionally supporting the group as well as ensuring that they have the resources they need to achieve their goals.

Ensure that you gather consent you need from participants in online groups– if you are using online forms it’s a good idea to talk through the form on the phone with a young person so you know they have read it and understand their rights.

Put simple safeguarding measures in place. Arrange 1-1 calls with every young person (and their parent or guardian if the young person is under 18) before they join the group to get to know a bit about them and their needs. Store your documentation and notes on a safe, easily accessible server or secure cloud platform.

Make sure young people don’t feel pressure to be online all the time: set up group agreements to clarify expectations and ensure young people know who they can reach out to if there is an issue or concern.


  • Ask young people about their dietary requirements and any allergies they may have when they join the online group.

  • Don’t forget to pick up the phone – one to one conversations are still incredibly important when running online groups with young people. In the case of care-experienced young people living alone, a one to one phone conversation might be incredibly important to their mental health.

  • Many care-experienced young people or young people living in poverty don’t have access to smartphones or data causing digital and social exclusion. This is why schools, charities and local authorities must take responsibility to advocate for these young people’s right to smart phones and data.

  • Online delivery does not replace the need for face to face meet ups. Instead, let’s think about how delivering activities online through lockdown allows for better ‘blended’ options in the future.

  • These activities all need some level of moderation. Try designating 2-3 moderators to be responsible for keeping everyone engaged and positive without putting too much pressure on one person.

  • You may need a designated person to create content, champion the engagement, populate the groups and probe discussions to avoid a group going quiet.

  • Working with young people means taking extra special precautions regarding safeguarding and privacy and setting up group agreements where necessary.

  • When considering what rate and how will you be paying youth colleagues to run the session, it’s important to acknowledge that it may be tricky to pay people who are on benefits. For the purpose of this recipe, the Barnardo’s Care Leavers team would suggest visiting the Social Care Institute for Excellent’s guidance on Paying people who receive benefits – Co-production and participation

Points of contact

For further information about this recipe, you can contact:

Irit Pollak

Sohila Sawhney

Carin Laird


Many thanks to Barnardo's for contributing this recipe.


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 Barnardo's 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 June 11th, 2020. Last updated August 4th, 2021