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Mind Matters: How tackling loneliness taught us the power of community among care leavers

13 Jul 2021

You gave me the opportunity to create memories taken for granted by many others - normally family type of trips we miss out on. I actually have something to look back on for what is one of the most unsettled/lonely parts of a care experienced young person’s life.

Mind Matters participant

Poor mental wellbeing is commonly associated with care experienced young people. Their lives of abrupt endings, unreliable statbility, loss of connections and adverse childhood experiences can result in poor mental wellbeing. Alongside a lack of positive family or peer groups support, this can all compound the situation with a sense of loneliness.

When you are tackling poor mental wellbeing, the last thing you may feel like, or even be able to do, is interact with activities such as education, employment or training. Positive activities that can help shift the state of mind to a brighter outlook.

In July 2020, Leicester City Council asked Leicestershire Cares to explore the mental wellbeing needs of care experienced young people in the city, and as a result our Mind Matters project was launched. After one year of the project these are our findings.


Leicestershire Cares set up a consultation team, made up of care experienced young people to develop the initial plan for the project’s purpose (strengthen their resilience and wellbeing), its scope, deliverables and even its name: Mind Matters. The group consisted of 5 young people who we were supporting through the pandemic and who had already requested additional support for the mental health/wellbeing and to help them stay in touch with other young people during lockdown.

We held three socially distanced face-to-face meetings in our covid-secure office to discuss the project and what it could deliver for young people. We discussed the impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health and isolation, and they highlighted high levels of boredom, lack of connectivity and poor eating habits as key issues. Consequently, they helped us develop the ideas for the Fakeaways, crafternoons and regular online social sessions, as well as socially distanced face-to-face group sessions where this has been allowed. This co-production model gave the care experienced young people the tools and ownership of the solutions that would help improve their wellbeing.

Online activities

At the start of lockdown, we quickly moved our support online and provided young people with data SIMs and/or laptops to ensure they could access digital activities. When Mind Matters started in July 2021, we already had a few months’ experience of delivering engaging virtual activities and built on this to ensure that Mind Matters was a success. We used our findings from our ‘Life Under Lockdown’ report (May 2020) to create a programme that would be robust, practical and inclusive.

Crafternoons engaged 8 young people in a six week programme of arts and crafts activities. The materials were delivered to their homes and the young people met up on Zoom along with a facilitator who encouraged them to use arts and crafts as a way of improving wellbeing. All of the young people involved reported feeling more relaxed, less anxious, and enjoyed learning a new hobby with other young people.

Doing these activities [arts and craft sessions] allows me spread my creativity to others and that is my passion. As I have anxiety, I don’t cope well in groups but having a thing to do, takes your mind off of being in a group and you just start having conversations with people.

Mind Matters participant

Fakeaways was a great success. This fortnightly cooking session involved young people making healthy versions of the takeaways they had been buying during lockdown. The young people chose which meal they wanted to make and we delivered the ingredients to them to ensure they could all take part. They then logged onto Zoom on a Friday afternoon and were taught by a professional cooking tutor from the Adult Education Centre. Eventually, the young people were empowered to run the sessions themselves, and share recipes that connected them to their estranged families and heritage, promoting conversations that connected the group by their share lived experience.

We had 12 regular attendees at Fakeaways, with more who attended just a few sessions. The feedback from the young people was hugely positive. They reported improved confidence, saving money, eating healthier and losing weight. Those with children also said that cooking together had helped improve their relationship with their child.

The confidence I have gained cooking for myself is incredible. I never thought I would be able to make tasty dishes for under £10 and really enjoy them too!

Mind Matters participant

I have saved so much money not buying microwave meals and getting rid of my fear of feeling I can’t cook. Thank you!

Mind Matters participant

I have lost some weight now that I am cooking for myself. Thank you, I have a new hobby!

Mind Matters participant

Coming out of Lockdown

Alongside these activities we held weekly online Chill & Chat sessions where young people joined in film nights, quizzes, and general chats. In the autumn, we were also able to hold some socially distanced outdoor activities, in line with Covid restrictions. These have included picnics, healthy eating sessions at a local community allotment, an outdoor Christmas party, a barbecue, canoeing at the Outdoor Pursuits Centre, wood carving and gardening projects. In total, over 30 young people took part in these activities, the majority of whom said that they had helped them reconnect with other young people and feel less isolated.

Being able to see people’s faces and have a face-to-face conversations feels so natural, but has been something that has been so hard to find over these last 5 months. It’s opportunities like this that Leicestershire Cares offer that are so positive for me holistically.

Mind Matters participant

Long-term benefits

Participants have so far reported a range of long-term benefits from being involved in Mind Matters. As well as gaining new cooking skills and an understanding of healthy eating from Fakeaways, young people said that the social activities have given them more confidence in engaging with others, given them a sense of belonging and helped them feel able to talk about their experience of being in care.

Being involved in the activities that Leicestershire Cares run means that I am able to get out and be more involved in activities which involve socialising in a group. It allows me to meet new people and feel part of a team

Mind Matters participant

My confidence has increased and I feel safer talking about my real life as a care experienced person. Leicestershire Cares gave me a safe space to recognise its okay to embrace that part of myself.

Mind Matters participant

Some spoke about feeling more independent which has encouraged them to consider what they want to do next in terms of volunteering, training or employment, and how their decisions could support their mental health.

It helped me become more confident and helps you towards independence… I’d like opportunities to try vol or paid jobs to do with animals. I think that would improve my mental health.

Mind Matters participant

While others have appreciated the chance to catch up on life that was on hold, and create memories many traditional families take for granted.

You also gave me the opportunity to create memories taken for granted by many others, like. Go-karting and Beaumanor Hall - normally family type trips we miss out on. I actually have something to look back on for what is one of the most unsettled/lonely parts of a care experienced young person’s life.

Mind Matters participant

Going forwards

As lockdown restrictions ease, we will be moving more of our support back to face-to-face delivery. However, we definitely feel that virtual delivery has a role to play, especially for young people who have travel anxiety or are very busy with other commitments (e.g. college) and want to join via video call. As such, we intend to maintain a hybrid model of both online and face-to-face support.

When asked what they would want from the programme if it were to continue, our steering group had lots of useful ideas, including more around how to manage their mental health and develop positive thinking; social activities which also help to develop life skills; and activities which promote physical fitness as well as mental wellbeing.

The activities that I would like to do at Leicestershire Cares are exercise activities to improve health and well-being. I would also like to do a mental health workshop and learn about what is going on inside my brain and how to create positive thinking.

Mind Matters participant

I really enjoy any opportunity to get outside and do something especially with other CEP. It gives me a chance to socialise in that safe space and kick myself out of bed that day. Practical things are particularly good i.e. cooking and woodworking as they can have real life applications.

Mind Matters participant

The young people also identified the power of ‘giving back’ and connecting with their local community, has on their self-esteem and mental wellbeing. They said they were interested in raising money for a local cause by doing something like a sponsored 24-hour gaming marathon, cake bake, art auction or a sponsored walk.

Listening to other people that have had similar life experiences to me has really helped me. I don’t feel as alone. Coming up with a list of things to do to help care experienced young people stay strong during Christmas made me feel like I was doing something important. I want to do more of that sort of thing

Mind Matters participant

We consulted with our steering group about the idea of having a life coach. The feedback suggests that this could be a useful source of support for those who are ready to take the next step but want some specific advice on how to set and progress towards their goals. Leicestershire Cares has recently started a business volunteer mentoring programme for care experienced young people, and are finding that some of the outcomes have been improved mental wellbeing and belief in themselves. The widening of these young people’s networks are helping them grow.

Sometimes you need to speak to people that know things that you can’t google. I don’t know those things, but through this mentoring programme, I now know people that know people that do.

Mind Matters participant

Others felt that they already had enough support or had a clear destination they wanted to achieve.

I would be interested in a life coach.

No I wouldn’t want a life coach. I had one before but I already know where I want my life to go.

Mind Matters participants

Comments and Feedback from Leicester City Council on the Mind Matters project

Leicestershire Cares are a pleasure to work with, they genuinely care for the young people they work with and are very passionate about their health, happiness and wellbeing. They approach projects in a creative way and with great enthusiasm and always deliver what is asked of them

Kate Huszar Programme Manager, Prevent, Public Health, Leicester City Council

Leicestershire Cares is a wonderful organisation to work with. The commitment and passion for supporting young people is evident from early interactions. The innovation in project development and commitment to agreed outcomes has been outstanding!

Diana Dorozkinaite, Business Change Commissioning Manager, Leicester City Council

Our work with care experienced young people

For more information about our work with care experienced young people, please contact Jacob Brown: