Rural Coffee Caravan

Reducing the stress of rural isolation by visiting communities with a free community cafe and mobile information centre

For the last 14 years Rural Coffee Caravan has toured villages across the county offering tea and coffee as a counter to rural isolation.

It’s a warm summer day and Joyce Atkins, Jean Wall and Joyce Slater are sitting on garden chairs on the green in Aldringham enjoying a cuppa, homemade cake and a good old chin wag.

They talk like old friends do about what’s been going on in their lives, their families and warm days of summers past when they used to spend every moment with their children on the beach.

Rural Coffee Caravan visits more than 70 villages across Suffolk

“But those everyday opportunities to meet are gone and, Joyce adds, “it’s only thanks to the Rural Coffee Caravan that this monthly meeting of friends exists at all”.

There’s nowhere to meet in the village anymore – apart from the pub – but these ladies are not going to be popping in to the Parrot and Punchbowl for a pint anytime soon.

“We’ve got no school, no hall, no shop, the church is way out of the village on the other side of the road and we’ve got no bus either as we can’t get to the bus stop. We used to have a village hall but that was sold. Also we don’t have neighbours because many properties in the village are holiday homes” she explained.

Which means that now, as the trio find it harder to get about – Joyce is 79, Jean is 87 and Joyce is 93 – the only opportunity to get together is when the Rural Coffee Caravan drops by.

“Of course we keep in touch by telephone but this is the only time we can get to see each other. “We’ve come to Rural Coffee Caravan since it started and it makes such a difference to us that we have asked them not to close down on us too.”

Visitors at the Rural Coffee Caravan

Rev Mark Lowther at the Rural Coffee Caravan

Ann Osborn, Rural Coffee Caravan Manager said, “The charity was started in 2001 by the Rev Canon Sally Fogden who recognised that rural isolation in Suffolk was a huge problem. Aldringham was one of the first places we came to and we bring the caravan to the village monthly between April and October.

“During the rest of the year, thanks to the Rev Mark Lowther vicar of Friston and Aldeburgh, meetings are now continuing at the pub or in people’s homes.”

The charity visits more than 70 villages offering free tea, coffee and cake at some places but in others offers an information service.

“Joyce, Joyce and Jean have been coming here since the start and this opportunity to meet means so much. We have promised we will keep coming here until the money runs out or they aren’t here any longer.”

Visitors at the Rural Coffee Caravan

Inside the Rural Coffee Caravan

Ann says it costs almost £100,000 a year to run the charity and Suffolk Community Foundation has always helped with grant making.

The Rev Fogden said, ”I started Rural Coffee Caravan as I realised how many very lonely people there were in the farming community.”

She said that conversation and social interaction is vital for everyone but for older people in small villages it’s just not possible because there is no-one to talk to.

There are villages where property prices are so high young people can’t afford to stay and where homes are sold as weekend cottages or to commuters so local services are no longer viable, she explained.

“Rural Coffee Caravan has helped to fill that gap through its monthly visits”

Ann is very good at remembering people’s names and that’s really important. If you are a lonely person and you feel undervalued, it can make a huge difference if someone calls you by name. It’s not rocket science but it makes a difference.”

Richard Cooper of Suffolk Community Foundation’s Suffolk Giving Fund panel says this project is of huge benefit. “It’s important from the Foundation’s point of view that we go out into the community and see how charities are using their grant money.”

Today in Aldringham it’s clear this charity is very effective in reaching a lot of people who have become isolated in rural areas because the villages they live in and the way we live has simply changed.

This is the first time I have been to see the work of Rural Coffee Caravan and it’s quite a treat. It’s clear Rural Coffee Caravan makes a very positive difference to Suffolk.

Terry Ward

Trustee, Suffolk Community Foundation

We are constantly behind desks, behind screens or behind doors or windows but we are human beings and going out to spend quality time with each other face to face is so important. As a trustee, I have been able to meet so many people and experience the issues they face first hand. Suffolk Community Foundation does such a great job in connecting causes that matter with people who care.

Jonathan Ager

Chief Executive Officer at Birketts & Suffolk Community Foundation Trustee, Suffolk Community Foundation

There are more excellent projects like this in Suffolk

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