Online conversation cafés

Online conversation cafés

The Scottish Recovery Network (SRN) adapted its existing face-to-face conversation café approach to create and deliver online conversation cafés.

Online conversation cafés were used to find out how people with lived experience of mental health challenges were staying well during lockdown and as it eases.

What we did

We chose Zoom as it enables both video and telephone participation, provides security measures and was one of the more readily accessible resources available to people in communities.

The cafés were not targeted at specific groups or roles; anyone could register. They were advertised widely in the SRN's newsletter, website, social media and through other organisations' newsletters. The number of participants in each café was limited to 8 to retain the participative nature of a conversation café and to enable participants to fully engage in the discussions and feel listened to and heard. A welcome pack with clear instructions and information was shared in advance to help people feel at ease about the online approach. Two SRN team members facilitated each online café and shared their experiences as appropriate. An initial connecting exercise was based on personal wellbeing, followed by 3 open questions to encourage sharing and discussion.

What worked well

Adapting the existing face-to-face conversation café approach helped to ensure that the SRN's values were translated into the online platform.

There were many advantages of using online cafés:

  • Bringing people together from across the country to share experiences, insights and learning. This included people living in more remote rural areas where travelling to more central events can be difficult.
  • Connecting with new people and those who had not attended previous face-to-face events. Some participants commented that large face-to-face events can be intimidating and, for them, an online event felt more comfortable and accessible.
  • Providing more opportunities to people to participate by offering 12 small conversation cafés, instead of one or two larger events.
  • Planning and delivering the events was as time consuming as running face-to-face events but other costs were lower (due to no venue hire, catering and travel costs) which means that more events can be held.

Participants felt welcomed, listened to, heard and valued. They enjoyed the online café experience and many would like more opportunities to meet and share with others online through similar events. Some participants had not engaged with the SRN previously and found the online approach easier to engage with than face-to-face events. Participants said that this is something they would like to see more of in their communities and workplaces.

"This has been about more than just getting people together to talk… I have learnt a lot from the experience and it’s been great to hear about your experience, talk about my experience and properly connect with people."

"I found it very relaxed, friendly and informative. I also felt that my opinions were listened to and respected."

The work helps to reduce inequalities by providing a space for people with lived experience of mental health challenges to share their experiences and to have them listened to and shared more widely.

The reflections and learnings from the online cafés will help to shape the future design and delivery of mental health support and influence policy and practice.


Planning and delivering the online cafés was a learning opportunity, requiring several rehearsals of running the online cafés and time to get used to Zoom.

This online approach is not for everyone and some people who had engaged previously did not participate. This may be due to lack of access to the technology required, a lack of confidence in using it or worries about security and safety of the experience.

The SRN will blend this new online experience with face-to-face events to ensure that they can connect with as many people with lived experience as possible. A blended approach will help to ensure that people have an effective voice in the design and delivery of mental health services and support.


Scottish Recovery Network


Image credit: Scottish Recovery Network

Last Updated: 19 April 2023