Ann Osborn is the Chief Exec of the Rural Coffee Caravan, which has been making a difference to rural communities throughout Suffolk for 20 years. Here, she explains why the new anniversary appeal has had to gain new momentum and quadruple its fundraising aims
The Rural Coffee Caravan’s initial #£20kfor20years appeal turn an unexpected turn recently when one of the much-needed vehicles had a blowout on the A11. The project is a service unique to Suffolk, addressing loneliness and isolation by delivering information and friendship across the county. However, with another vehicle past its prime and with the price of campervans being what they are these days, the team are now looking to raise FOUR times that initial figure.
As a constituted group, the Rural Coffee Caravan has been going for 20 years – it was the brainchild of the Rev Canon Sally Fogden, who was manning a helpline in Suffolk for the Farm Crisis Network at the time. Initially there was just one caravan but nowadays there are three campervans, as well.
Chief Exec Ann Osborn says: ‘We were brought into existence in 2003 to address the causes and symptoms of loneliness in rural isolated areas by taking a mobile pop-up coffee caravan out to rural areas where there isn’t anything like that.
Ann has been involved in the project for all that time and has overseen the Rural Coffee Caravan offer various other solutions to the real problems of rural isolation, such as Meet Up Mondays, which gives hospitality businesses the chance to strengthen their local community; the c-a-f-e (coffee and friends events) network, and More Than A Shop, a growing network of 50-plus rural stores, which can offer a lifeline to the lonely.
Folk Features last featured the Rural Coffee Caravan in 2021. ‘We were still in the pandemic last time,’ recalls Ann. ‘We came back out on the road when it was legal to do so.’
Once out and about again, they found a different landscape. Last year they made 405 visits and reached thousands of people. ‘It was incredible how many more people came compared to before the pandemic,’ says Ann, before making the point: ‘There were quite large numbers of people who had experienced loneliness for the first time – new people to the world of loneliness – and people who had already experienced it and were finding that it was even worse.’
She continues: ‘Come Winter we were the organisation who identified and mapped all Warm Spaces in Suffolk – just over 300. And we offered them support if they were new groups set up for the first time.
‘The other thing we did all through 2022 was produce a magazine to reach people who were unable to go digital. Everything went online during the pandemic but for a whole raft of people that is impossible: either there is no signal; or they can’t afford to have WiFi connected.’ She concludes: ‘Last year we came back out in force and had a really busy year.’
How did she feel about the 20th anniversary? Ann sounds conflicted: ‘Do you celebrate a charity that helps with loneliness? It’s important to mark it. It’s remarkable that a tiny charity has survived. We’ve gone from one little caravan to four vehicles on the road, plus Meet Up Mondays and so on. It needs to be marked.’
On Sunday the team enjoyed a fundraising afternoon tea, plus the latest appeal received a significant boost recently: thanks to very generous offline donations they are now over halfway to their target, which is good news for replacing the very damaged ‘Audrey’. However, as Ann says: ‘we need to raise another £30,000.’ ‘Lottie’, who is old and tired (‘bit like me really’), also needs replacing. ‘We want to get the best and newest vehicles we can.’
People can help in a variety of ways. ‘If they want to donate to the appeal there’s the Local Giving page,’ says Ann, ‘or they could hold a fundraising event for us. If they are a business, they could become a corporate sponsor. We just need to keep going and what we need is money. It’s finding ways of generating income to pay salaries and keep the vehicles on the road.’ She adds: ‘We are so simple and so straightforward. We would love an office but don’t have that, so if anyone has any office space!
What is the dream? ‘My dream would be that we were not needed to address loneliness…My dream would be stronger, more connected communities so that we didn’t need to exist.’
Visit the Rural Coffee Caravan. To donate to the appeal, visit RuralCoffeeCaravan’s 20th ‘Vanniversary’ on Localgiving.
Featured image (left to right): Diana Patrick, Ann Osborn and Elaine Begent. Photo by Charlotte Bond