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Barnardo's help protect vulnerable children and young people across the UK. The children’s services team build up relationships of trust with children and young people.

This Guide covers making learning to cook fun, safe and financially accessible. The steps could be adapted to running many other activities online.

Steps to teaching young people how to cook using Instagram and Facebook Messenger

First, make sure that the young people you support are interested in cooking. Then consider the things you will need to make a session work. Involve some young people in your planning.

Here are some questions to ask:

  • Is the purpose of the sessions to share cooking skills or to provide social connection, or both?

  • What budget do you need? Will you have sessional staff or volunteers running the sessions?

  • Who will pay for the ingredients? Don’t forget that some young people may not be able to afford even simple ingredients themselves.

  • Are you going to add any incentives for taking part, like prizes?

  • What size should the groups be? Smaller groups will make it easier to keep everyone engaged.

  • Where do you already talk to the young people online? What messaging and video-calling tools are they comfortable with?

  • Are there any safeguarding needs that your existing policies and procedures don’t cover?

  • Do you have a standard risk assessment template you can use in planning?

  • Do you want a brand for the sessions, or will they just fit within your other activities?

Online cooking is part of Barnardo's Social Spatula project

Barnardo’s Plymouth Care Journeys Design Lab already knew that cooking classes with a social element were popular. They had been running face-to-face Social Spatula activities for care-experienced young people.

For online delivery they decided to run small groups of 4-6 people. When more young people wanted to join, they created more groups. They employed youth colleagues to co-run the sessions and paid them.

They knew they wanted to run both video calls and engagement activities between sessions. They also wanted the project to be a showcase for young people’s skills. They knew they needed more than one online tool for the project.

They were focused on working with care-experienced young people who all live in a particular area. This meant they could plan to deliver ingredients to them if needed.

They used safeguarding procedures and risk assessments that the organisation already had.

There are 4 main considerations to think about with tools for this kind of project:

  1. What tools are the young people comfortable with?

  2. What tools are the staff or volunteers comfortable with?

  3. What are your privacy and safety needs for safeguarding and data protection?

  4. Do you want to share any parts of the project publicly?

Your answers will be different for different projects.

The Design Lab team decided to use Facebook Messenger as the primary delivery method.

They chose it because:

  • It’s free

  • You don’t have to provide phone numbers

  • You can use it on any mobile and on computers

  • Most young people and workers are already familiar with how to use it so there is less of a learning curve.

  • It allows individual and group chats that can share text, images, video and audio

  • You can hold video calls where participants can choose camera on or off

  • It’s easy to mute the group so workers can control the flow of messages and when people can send them. This means they can unmute the group when they are available to reply.

  • You can limit people joining the group to people you invite or people you invite and friends they invite. This is good for security and aids group safety.

The Design Lab also use an Instagram account to support all their projects. This features in Step 5.

You’ll need to work out how to:

  • Advertise your activities

  • Make sure young people understand what they are signing up for and get their consent

  • Make sure you have consent from their parent or carer as well, if they are under 18

You’ll also want to gather some information about how they will be involved:

  • Do they have any allergies or dietary requirements?

  • Do they have any accessibility needs?

Try to include a 1-to-1 call, meeting or chat with young people during the joining process. This will help you work out if any young person has more immediate support needs.

The Design Lab already had connections to the people they wanted to participate. They invited them by email or Messenger, depending on the contact details they had.

They set up “pre-joining calls” for every young person who wanted to join. This gave the young person and workers facilitating the groups a chance to get to know each other. These calls set expectations and made sure that the young person was still interested. For young people under 18, parents or carers join these calls so they can give consent to the young person taking part.

After the call, the worker sends the young person a link to the Messenger group for their sessions.

For more tips on getting consent on a video call see this Guide from Scope.

In the message chat or at the first online session, co-create some ground rules or a code of conduct for the group. Creating rules with the group participants, not for them, is important for enabling ownership and engagement.

Barnardo’s have some common rules for groups that they use as a base for discussion. Group discussion abut these surfaced a particular need for support around people leaving and joining. People in the group felt more comfortable if they knew someone was going to be joining before it happened. They also wanted to know why people left, if they left.

You can run cook along sessions on video calls. To do this the group facilitator needs to practice talking to the group and filming what they are cooking as they go. 

But you don’t have to be able to do that to run a successful online cooking group. You can also:

  • Provide cooking instructions in the chat

  • Provide cooking challenges in the chat and have people share videos or images of their work

  • Run video calls talking about how it went

  • Run video calls where people talk about food and cooking in general or play games related to cooking

Don’t forget the main requirement of the facilitator is not about teaching cooking. They need firstly to:

  • Provide structure, energy and facilitate co-production

  • Hold the group accountable to things they co-create

  • Provide emotional support

  • Make sure people have the resources they need.

Image: Jessie, a young person in the lab team preparing a warm up cooking quiz.

Barnado’s project focused on weekly challenges. This meant young people could choose the best time for them to cook.

They made the challenges flexible, to encourage people to take part using simple ingredients they already had. This also removed lots of worries about dietary requirements

Here are some examples:

  • Cook a meal with peppers in it (they checked the allergies list - no-one was allergic)

  • cook a meal with the colour yellow in it

  • cook the fastest dinner possible

  • Share a drink you’ve made

Workers took part in the challenges too, to create a more equal power dynamic.

The Design Lab also ran an Instagram account. They invited young people to tag them in their pictures of the challenge or inbox them their pictures. Then they shared pictures of the challenges publicly. This gave the team control so they could avoid sharing anything unsafe. 

As the project went on, more people started taking part in the challenge on Instagram. This included friends of the  young people and workers from other Barnardo’s services.

When they ran group video calls, the youth leaders focused on things that encouraged conversation - food bingo, quizes or just sharing a cup of tea. They kept things light-hearted.

Running a group chat alongside group video call sessions gives you lots of immediate feedback. Look out for ideas insight into what is working and what isn't. Then find ways to act on them.

The Design Labs team wanted to empower the young people they were working with to help others. The group came up with a Cake and Kindness challenge. It worked like this:

  • They advertised the challenge to their group

  • Young people nominated themselves to take part if they wanted to

  • The team direct messaged participants to collect their postal address

  • The team delivered instant cake mix to everyone who wanted them. Some people were too far away so the team ordered online, and others wanted to use their own ingredients.

  • Young people had one week to bake a cake and deliver it to a neighbour or someone going through a hard time. They added a short note to it.

  • The young people shared pictures of the cakes and “what the person receiving it said” in the messenger chat

  • The next Messenger group call gave everyone a chance to talk about how it went

Further information

Paying facilitators who are on benefits? 

See other Shared Digital Guides focused on work with young people

More about this project