How we brought isolated people together — with coffee and a caravan!


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.

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.

First steps

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. As she says, '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 the 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 them 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've put on some other events,' says Ann, 'We do cream teas, ‘Memory Lane’ creams, Golden Age fairs. We have various events going on that are all built on this theme of giving people access to services and alleviating loneliness and isolation.'

'We also run Memory Lane Cream Teas, using memorabilia in all forms, including artefacts, video, music, etc. 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.' 

Community Action Response to Covid-19

'Due to the current crisis, we cant take the camper/caravan out to support the community the ways we usually do. Instead, we’re doing prescription and food deliveries for people in the local area. As well as our limited face-to-face work, we’ve also got information our a website, keeping people connected. We’ve also set up a host of telephone trees too!'

'We're looking at ways in which we can take our information offline. We’re finding those who aren’t current tech-savvy, and thinking of how we can support them in a socially distant offline way.'

'We’ve got a whole of calendar events packed with things people can join in with; this includes Backyard Buddies, Driveway Drinks, and sing-a-longs.'

'We are also thinking ourselves and talking to art groups about things people can do to remain part of their wider community; maybe reading the same book and chatting about it over the phone, or watching the same film at the same time and using WhatsApp to talk about it. Possibly even art projects that individuals can do, but that may become part of a bigger ‘thing’ when the crisis has passed - someting that could perhaps represent this crisis, almost as a historical piece for the future!'

Find out more

Visit Ann and the team over on the Rural Coffee Caravan website or follow them on Twitter and Facebook.