Ann Osborn is the Director of the Rural Coffee Caravan in Suffolk. The mobile community cafe and information centre helps to alleviate isolation in rural areas. Now Ann and her team are members of the Campaign to End Loneliness and continue to find ways to bring people together where it's needed the most.
Ann's colleague and Chair of Trustees, the Reverend Canon Sally Fogden, saw the need to bring isolated members of rural communities together through her work as an agricultural chaplain. She purchased a caravan, gathered together some relevant information, made some cakes, and took the caravan into rural Suffolk.
What Ann did
The caravan was set up on village greens, church car parks or wherever there was room. People welcomed the chance to have somewhere to meet and chat and made full use of the information by accessing services they previously hadn’t known existed.
We got in touch with Ann when we came across the Rural Coffee Caravan on Twitter. We loved the sound of what her team was doing so much that we invited her to a Community Camp at Eden.
"What Eden Camps are for us is inspiration; it's motivation; it's information; a mass of networking and, I have to say, it made us as individuals feel really very special. It was this atmosphere of care, enthusiasm and joy. It was just uplifting. As well as the endless ideas, it was the knowledge that you were going to be supported for quite a long time into the future."
Word spread and with the aid of funding the project has grown to meet increasing demand over the last ten years. It now has three members of staff and is supported by an amazing team of volunteers. There are two caravans which cover the whole county, often acting as a catalyst for change within a community, motivating people to start their own events and activities and then offering support as they begin to grow.
The Rural Coffee Caravan team continue to find new ways to bring people together and have developed Golden Age Fairs as a 'one stop information shop', with stalls manned by representatives of services available for older people in the area. Ann says: "This enables 121 conversations to take place, and direct access to these services. And, of course, there is also Coffee Caravan tea and cake available, served by our wonderful volunteers."
"We also run Memory Lane Cream Teas, using memorabilia in all forms, including artefacts, video and music. These are wonderful events for people with dementia and their families. All of our events are aimed at alleviating loneliness and isolation, and creating social opportunities for people."
Staying connected during the pandemic
When the Coronavirus pandemic began, Ann was forced to stop taking the caravan out to communities. But, keenly aware that support was needed more than ever, Ann and the team got to work organising prescription and food deliveries for people in the local area. They also set up telephone trees and web resources to keep everyone connected.
"We organised a whole calendar of events packed with things people could join in with, including Backyard Buddies, Driveway Drinks, and sing-a-longs. We also had to look at ways in which we could take our information offline to ensure those who aren’t as tech-savvy remain part of their wider community."