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The Lunch Challenge: Embedding a Right’s-Based Approach to Youth Work


The Children, Young People and Families workstream at Black Thrive Lambeth holds the fundamental belief that children and young people have valid feelings and opinions that deserve to be heard and respected. Our core aim is to successfully engage Black children and young people in our work in a meaningful way.

Insights from focus groups conducted in 3 different Lambeth schools made it clear that many children don’t have a voice in society. They don’t feel heard and don’t believe that their voice can influence any part of their world. It’s all too easy for their feelings and opinions to be disregarded and go unconsidered. As a team we knew we had to take a drastically different approach to engaging with the children involved with our projects.

Lambeth Council are embarking on an ambitious three to five-year programme to become a UK Committee for UNICEF Child Friendly Community. As a partner organisation, we had the opportunity to attend UNICEFS training on taking a right’s-based approach to engaging young people.

The methods and conversations we had during this training provided a helpful framework for thinking through how we would ensure our projects were collaborative and engaging.

Introducing the Young Researchers Project

The Young Researchers Project, funded by the BBC’s Children in Need, is intended to explore early mental health interventions for children aged 8-13 years old. Statistics demonstrate that 50% of all mental health conditions are already established by the time children are 14 years old. Therefore, our work aims to investigate what goes wrong in our children’s mental health and wellbeing and how we can address this – with children and young people leading the charge.

Part of our task is to train up children aged 8-13 years old as peer researchers to do this work. Children are experts by experience – they are in the best position to let us know about their own emotional wellbeing and what can improve & protect it.

Now, this project is not without its challenges, especially around the nature of the topic and managing how young people will be able to engage in the research safely. But that’s for another blog post! Today we will explore how we embedded a rights-based approach for our Young Researchers Bootcamp, the success, challenges, and key takeaways.

The Lunch Challenge

Article 12 of the UN Declaration of the Rights of The Child stipulates that children have a right to be listened to & taken seriously. When thinking about running the bootcamp, we knew that giving the children the ability to choose what they want to eat would be critical. They are accustomed to being told what to eat and when – this is not how we wanted to do things. They needed to be a part of the conversation.

However, giving young children free reign on what they have for lunch could be a logistical nightmare – what if they want different things? What if what they want isn’t available? Are they likely to choose relatively healthy options? Probably not.

To overcome this, we presented this as a challenge for them. Each day, the children had to choose what they would eat as a team, following this guideline:

  • Remain within budget (average was £60 per day, depending on the number of kids that day)
  • Order food from one place
  • Choose something relatively healthy

What happened?

The kids were surprised they had the option of choosing their meal and took to the challenge well. The girls were quick to take charge of the challenge daily. Observing their different skills come into play and work as a team was fantastic – some would be researching, others doing the calculations. It was also interesting to see how they tackled problem solving – what to do if their choices exceeded the budget? How to ensure everyone could eat what they wanted/liked?

The most significant learning curve happened on Wednesday. Until then, the kids had found it straight-forward to agree on what to eat. They’d even created a schedule! But things went pear-shaped when the group suddenly changed direction. The kids had planned to order Nando’s that day but suddenly decided it would be better to have Caribbean food instead.

The majority rushed ahead and began planning whether they wanted curried goat or patties, but two children sat back quietly. They were not on board with the new change in direction. But the rest of the group in all their excitement, didn’t notice.

The two who did not want Caribbean food found engaging with the group challenging. They preferred to sit back and play no part in the decision-making process. We found that this was the default response for a few kids throughout the week; we constantly had to remind them that if they didn’t speak up, no one would hear their thoughts and consider them. Amy and I intervened, reminding them that the end goal is that they decide a lunch they can agree on. Were they involving everyone in the conversation?

The tone of the conversation became sour and accusatory when the majority realised, they couldn’t persuade the others to choose Caribbean food. They began pointing fingers and saying, ‘You’re the only ones who don’t want Caribbean here!’. And despite our attempts to steer the conversation in a more positive direction, they couldn’t think of a positive & effective way of persuading the others.

That day resulted in the kids not having either Nando’s or Caribbean food. We asked them to choose something completely different, simply because they struggled to get on the same page and the conversation was very unkind – it didn’t seem right to reward them with what they wanted.

It wasn’t until the next day that we reaped the rewards of the discussions we’d been engaging in all week. They decided they wanted Caribbean food, and one child was not on board. However, this time they included him in the conversation. Why didn’t he want Caribbean? Does he like rice and chicken? Would he be okay with a pattie instead? Amy and I recognised that he was the youngest child, and even though he did end up changing his mind he was very sad about this. We decided to make two separate orders that day.

We were happy to do this because the group had learnt something. Even though he disagreed, they were much kinder and navigated the conversation well. They made space for him to speak up, which was important. They practised everything we had learnt that week. And we were proud!


One of the reasons why the challenge was successful, was because it allowed the children to learn or sharpen the ability to express their views confidently. Many of them learnt that it’s not enough to express; but you must be able to defend your view and sometimes persuade others on to your side. They learnt that it’s important to speak up if they want to influence a decision being made that affects them. As entertaining as it was to hear them rationalise why what they want is best, it was even more rewarding hearing them practise being kind to those who did not agree them; a crucial and necessary skill to have as they grow into adults who can influence the world around them.

Conclusion - A focus on kindness

Taking a rights-based approach enabled us to make the space as collaborative as it could be. We wanted the kids to know that we meant it when we said we value their voice and take their views seriously. Engaging children and young people meaningfully is about creating opportunity for them to take the lead and showing them that you trust them to do so. Focusing on making the space a kind one also meant that the kids were encouraged to be reflective about how they were showing up and engaging in the space. They had to look inward and consider if they were living up to the expectations we had set out to the space, instead of focusing on someone else. Our sincere hope is that as they go back into their worlds, they’ll have a better idea of how to speak up in kindness.