As we recommence delivering programs in a face-to-face environment, we reflect on our recent programs and how they had to shift so quickly to an online environment.

In the second half of this year, Ladder Step Up Sydney and Latrobe Valley, as well as our Community Partnerships, had to quickly transition to the online environment due to lockdowns. Some had happened over the span of a weekend so all Ladder Development Coaches had to plan very quickly. The biggest challenge was the unpredictability and swiftness of the lockdown's, so the team needed to prepare for both (face-to-face and online) sessions so the interchange between the two was easy and seamless for young people.

The face-to-face sessions originally involved a combination of Ladder Development Programs (LDPs) run in office, as well as getting out into the community to recreational parks, volunteering at the local neighbourhood house, visiting gyms and participating in facilitated cooking sessions.

LDPs transferred across to online and new online activities were incorporated including mindfulness art sessions, trivia, cooking, fitness, one-on-one sessions as well as combined Ladder Step Up Latrobe Valley and Sydney sessions and supporting Alumni also. Job tasters where young people would normally visit and tour a workplace were turned into sessions with special guests from local businesses speaking to the young people. Challenge packs were also dropped off to young people, that included materials such as puzzles, paint brushes and paint and cake mix.

The young people initially found the transition difficult due to their lack of access to working Wi-Fi, the space to do the activities and not feeling comfortable with a camera on. Despite these initial hurdles, the young people became comfortable with the online sessions and found it as a good distraction and "pick me up" during lockdown. It also helped to have the early stages of program as face-to-face so staff could build rapport earlier on, making online sessions not as difficult.

A key learning from this experience is that consistent communication is key. It's important to stay connected with the young people on what is happening every step of the way and make sure they know Ladder is there to support them. Building a relationship with young people before expecting them to participate online is also helpful.

In terms of scheduling in online sessions, core sessions should run on the same day and time each week for consistency. Extra activities such as cooking, trivia and fitness could be mixed up throughout the week and ensure that sessions with community partners continue so that young people still feel that sense of community and belonging.

We are so proud of how the young people were able to adapt so quickly in the given circumstances. We are so excited to welcome our upcoming program participants face-to-face and now have the systems in place should we need to go back to an online environment.