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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 Wild Plym outdoor nature walks online as well as general tips on digital engagement with young people.

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.

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 living independently I need to spend some time outside for my mental and physical health.
  • 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. Scheduling the remote nature walk or foraging activity

  • Set up a regular time for the walk. Communication with the group takes place using facebook messenger. Walks only take place during the day and participants are advised to plan routes that are in safe public places and can be walked in a set amount of time - usually a 1 hour walking route.
  • The young people responsible for the remote nature walk sesion can decide on the activity to be done during the walk. For example, asking the group to take and share photos of flowers and wildlife that they come across during their walk, to find a nice view or pick themes to discuss during the walk. Youth colleagues are also making video tutorials of creative projects such as creating frames for pressed flowers or plant holders from foraged materials which can be collected by young people on the remote walk.
  • Send activity reminders on the messaging platform being used. This can be done by either the youth colleague running the session or a member of staff.

2. Preparing for the Remote Nature Walk or foraging activity on the day

  • Remind participants to wear headphones so that they are able to communicate easily with the group without needing to hold their mobile device to their ear.
  • Have somebody begin the group call on facebook at the scheduled activity time. This is done by the youth colleague or the member of staff.
  • Make sure everyone has what they need for a comfortable walk - e.g. water bottle, jackets, Coats, Shoes and anything else that may be needed.
  • If a young person isn’t able to walk or doesn’t feel up to it they can still join the remote walk – they might want to share what they can see outside their window – this is all about reducing loneliness and social isolation so we always try to meet young people where they’re at.

3. During the remote Nature Walk

  • Everybody leaves their place at the same time.
  • Start the remote nature walk with a check-in. This involves asking everyone how they are doing, how they are feeling, how their week has been etc.
  • Go round the group and ask where everybody is walking. Participants should have already planned their own 1 hour long route that is through safe and public spaces.
  • Youth colleagues introduce the chosen walking activity they have planned and take the lead by getting them rolling, i.e posting some photos or introducing a topic of conversation. Remote nature walks generally last 1 hour, but this can be decided by the group when scheduling the activity.
  • Towards the end of the walk, ask each participant about how they’ve found the walk, how their week ahead is looking and if they’re looking forward to anything coming up.

4. Debriefing after the remote walk

  • A debrief may be conducted if possible with the group, where they are asked about what activity they’d like to do next time.
  • The youth colleagues then discuss what went well, what we could do better next time and create a list.


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.

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.


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.

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 4th, 2020. Last updated August 3rd, 2021