From Baking to Board Games: How The Feast Is Combatting Isolation in Young People

4 February 2021

The Feast Youth Project, the Master’s Charity of The Year, has been working with young people in Tower Hamlets, Luton and Birmingham since 2009. Using the Guidelines for Dialogue The Feast brings together young people from different faiths, ethnicities and communities to have fun, talk about their faith and make friends. In a world where isolation and division are growing, The Feast's work has never been so important.

Isolation and division have been exacerbated with the pandemic and the subsequent series of lockdowns. The challenge for The Feast has been finding ways to connect with young people, when schools, other youth provision and places of worship have been closed. Our work is all about developing lasting friendships – but how can you make new friends when you can’t even see your old ones? Our Guidelines for Dialogue help young people become more confident in their own identity - but if you can’t meet up for dialogue, how can you use them? We do so much of our work in schools – but when teachers are battling just to make sure they can deliver the core curriculum, how could there be room for anything else?

Like many youth organisations, The Feast depends on face-to-face encounters, yet lockdown seemed to herald the end of any contact with young people for some time. It was time for some serious re-thinking and creativity to make it possible to continue our vital work.

A laptop screen shows a number of young people on a Zoom call

New words crept into use – ‘Zoom’ anyone? And new phrases began to dominate conversations: ‘You’re on mute!’; ‘Can you switch your camera on?’; ‘Can you hear me?’ Like everyone else, The Feast went online.

The biggest challenge, as a charity about fun, faith and friendship, was how to make sure that the online encounters didn’t feel like school? Young people across the country were having lessons delivered online, or work sent home and The Feast team had to ensure that the ‘on screen’ weariness being experienced by many didn’t impact their encounters. They also had to address the fact that many of the young people with whom they work do not have access to the technology needed to access school work, never mind Feast meetings.

Fortunately, The Feast accessed funding from Children in Need’s Booster Grant to provide tablets and Wi-Fi to those without. This had a huge positive impact on some young people and their families.

Once the technology was sorted, it was time to get creative. Some of the most popular pre-pandemic Feast encounters were the cooking workshops. How could they cook together without being in the same place? Could they safeguard young people if they weren’t physically together? Was it possible to have quality conversations when physically apart? Through rigorous risk assessments, new safeguarding practices, clear instructions to parents and the creative genius of the teams these questions were more than answered.

It was possible to cook together; baking kits and cooking ingredients were sent in advance and the young people baked cookies and cupcakes, made desserts and had a Caribbean Cookery masterclass in jerk chicken and rice and peas, under the watchful eyes of The Feast youth workers and some amazing chefs and bakers.

The groups painted and drew together, played board games, wrote letters to elderly people in care homes and even watched a movie together. Scavenger hunts, even a virtual trip around South East Asia and, when some of the restrictions were lifted, socially-distanced bike rides and walks took place. Dialogue was more difficult, but challenging topics around faith, climate change, Black Lives Matter, identity and culture were able to take place. Most importantly, The Feast stayed connected with their young people and new friendships developed onscreen. Perhaps the words of one of the parents shows how much the young people experienced: 

It has been really difficult to find a sense of community, since the lockdown stopped the children from engaging in their normal activities. I have been really impressed by how [Feast staff] and volunteers have worked hard to foster a sense of family amongst the young people.

This is even more impressive because there has been a variety of online and in person activities, and the young people have genuinely been chatting and laughing in both settings. Another thing that has impressed me about The Feast this summer is the wide range of backgrounds that are reached through their activities. Young people from a variety of classes, faiths and different educational establishments are made to feel special and included. This is difficult to achieve [...] where there is so much diversity.

School work still presents many challenges, so The Feast's school workers have created videos for assemblies and tutor time, as well as producing bite-sized versions of their Transforming Dialogue programme that can be delivered by teachers in online lessons.

Like everyone, they have had to adapt to new ways of working and new ways of thinking. Some staff were furloughed, some activities were cancelled, but ultimately, the young people and staff have risen to the new challenges. Like everyone, The Feast can’t wait to return to a time when we can be in the same place, sharing a meal together, talking together, laughing together and making new friends, face to face.

To find out more about the The Feast, visit their website here.

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