Two inspiring women spreading a slice of kindness across a county
March the 8th is International Women’s Day – coincidentally it also happens to be the birthday of both of the key women responsible for making the Rural Coffee Caravan what it is today. So we thought we’d take this opportunity to put a little spotlight on them and the wonderful things they have achieved since the Rural Coffee Caravan’s inception!
“It is amazing thing to see a small idea grow into something rather special.”
Rural Coffee Caravan Founder
The project which brought the Rural Coffee Caravan to life was the brainchild of the Rev Canon Sally Fogden. Sally was no stranger to taking care of her community. She was a member of the first group of women to be ordained in the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich in 1994. She was also the driving force behind the Addington Fund – a fund which helped Suffolk pig farmers during the outbreak of classical swine fever in 2000 and rural communities during the foot and mouth epidemic in 2001, for which Sally received an MBE. Passionate about horses, as a physiotherapist for Hillside and Riverwalk special schools, Sally introduced their young people to Riding For The Disabled. For more than 45 years she has been coaching children at the charity.
Combating the stress of rural isolation
Sally is also founder and chair of the Suffolk branch of the Farming Community Network (a national charity providing wide ranging support for the farming community in the UK) and it was whilst manning a helpline for this in 2003 she felt very strongly that there was a need to do something to combat the stress of rural isolation. With the help of some colleagues, she hit upon the idea of a mobile community café and information centre. They purchased a caravan, gathered together some relevant information, made some cakes and took the caravan into rural Suffolk.
An instant hit
Their little enterprise was an instant hit and, encouraged by this response they applied for, and received, some funding and the Rural Coffee Caravan Information Project was born. The caravan started out visiting rural communities in Mid Suffolk during the summer months. Since then it has spread its wings across the whole of the county and continued to grow.
“It is an amazing thing to see a small idea grow into something rather special. The idea was in response to the loneliness and anxieties in remote rural places that some of us were being made aware of through the work we do with Farm Crisis Network. The initial response from that group meant that an ‘idea’ could be grown into something more than that. The ‘idea’ became the first of our caravans but it also involved finding funds and getting out there!”
Now the Rural Coffee Caravan is an established part of the Suffolk scene with the Caravan and Campervans being familiar and welcome sights on many a village green and village hall car park.
Points of Light
In 2017 Sally was awarded a UK Points of Light award. ‘Points of Light’ are outstanding individual volunteers – people who are making a change in their community. Every week day the Prime Minister recognises an inspirational volunteer with the Daily Point of Light award.
In a personal letter to Sally, then Prime Minister Theresa May said: “Thanks to your vision and dedication, the Rural Coffee Caravan is helping rural communities across Suffolk, fostering community spirit and providing valuable services and advice to thousands of local residents.”
Two years later and Sally becomes one of the first ever recipients of the Suffolk Medal due to her considerable charity work across Suffolk, including the Rural Coffee Caravan. This award’s purpose is to recognise, reward and champion “exceptional” contributions of people living in Suffolk – those who have made a fundamental, measurable and lasting difference to people’s lives.
From a bit of cake and a caravan…
Other ‘spin off’ events such as ‘Golden Age Fairs’ and ‘Community Cream Teas’ grew out of the Rural Coffee Caravan core service. Sally’s more recent idea, to celebrate the vital role our small rural stores play in our communities, became our ‘More Than A Shop’ initiative.
Launched in 2019, before the phrase Covid-19 had become part of our collective psyche, Sally saw just how much these village shops were already life savers. Shop staff and volunteers were always ‘looking out’ for the more isolated residents in our neighbourhoods, checking in on those vulnerable customers when there were unexpected absences from their usual shopping routines. Making out of hours home deliveries, or stocking harder to get items for people who could get further afield. Theses shops became local lifelines for many more isolated and shielding residents during the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021. Sally’s foresight gave us an opportunity not only to pass heartfelt gratitude from communities back to the dedicated people manning then, but also to mark them as places of friendship, and to offer those shopkeepers support – a place to refer concerns and share burdens in such challenging times.
Sally is still active in the delivery of our Village Visits and if you’ve ever had the pleasure to meet and chat with her at one of them you’ll know her for her positive and uplifting personality, for genuinely being interested in you, and for her ceaseless determination to find new ways to help others.
“Building new friendships with neighbours and strengthening old ones.”
Rural Coffee Caravan Chief Executive Officer
Ann joined the Rural Coffee Caravan Information Project in 2004 as its first official project manager. Returning to the world of work after 25 years as full time Mum, she says she felt fortunate to land this wonderful job working for a group of people passionate about helping the lonely and rurally isolated. With her fantastic people skills and her infectious enthusiasm for kindness she has been motivating the team at the Rural Coffee Caravan for over 17 years now.
Raising the RCC profile across Suffolk
Ann works tirelessly to keep the charity funded and through her rise from project manager to CEO has guided it into further corners of Suffolk—expanding the service by adding three campervans to the ‘fleet’ over the years, and increasing the staff team from just two to its current seven. The extra capacity means we can set up on more village greens, cul-de-sacs and car parks and offer year round ‘Info Drop’ visits to provide access to information to villages who have already organised social gatherings.
“An all round late developer and proud of it!”
“I am so proud to have been able to keep this wonderful little charity funded, to have hugely increased its capacity and to have raised its profile across Suffolk so that as many people as possible can take advantage of our services. I have learnt to write funding bids and monitoring reports, manage staff and volunteers, negotiate ‘jargon’ (which totally floored me at first), think strategically and generally project manage. Mostly I have learnt to have confidence in myself and my abilities. An all round ‘late developer’ and proud of it!”
Ann’s lightbulb moments of ways to help others don’t remain just ‘bright ideas’ but invariably manifest in projects and initiatives which find creative new ways to deliver the core work of the ‘Coffee Caravan’: alleviating loneliness and helping people make meaningful connections.
One happy ending becomes a beginning
Her chance following of a Twitter story about a lost wage packet finding its way back to its owner resulted in a network of pubs and cafes joining this cause across the country. All self-sustainably providing welcoming spaces for folk on their own, to facilitate friendships over free cuppas. MeetUpMondays™, now entering its 4th year, had created 100 of these by the end of 2019. Though slightly hampered by a global pandemic, more venues are resuming their sessions since restrictions eased, and new venues are coming on board each week. Helped currently by the support of Adnams who are encouraging their pubs to join the MeetUpMondays™ community.
Wanting to find a way to empower anyone intent on doing something to address loneliness in their neighbourhood, Ann also created the c-a-f-e (coffee and friends events) network. With a ‘better together’ approach to everything she rallied the partnership of Community Action Suffolk, Suffolk Community Foundation, Suffolk Association of Local Councils and Healthwatch Suffolk, amongst others, to find a way to connect village coffee mornings to a wider family of support.
Navigating the bumpy road
In her time with the Rural Coffee Caravan Ann has steered the charity through some challenging times and toward deserved, but not sought after, recognition. Managing to keep the service active and always relevant – when the ‘Coffee Caravan’ lost its caravan (to thieves in 2017), and over the last couple of years, when a service which revolves around getting people together was told that everyone must stay apart. Ann always has a plan, and steadfast determination, to find creative ways to keep people connected. She does this, whilst always acknowledging and harnessing the talents and hard work of her dedicated team.
Special recognition and a Queens Award
Through the Covid-19 pandemic, the RCC team received certificates of special recognition from the government, and also the High Sheriff’s of Suffolk, for their outstanding service to Suffolk’s communities .
Ann and Sally both agree that with regards to the Rural Coffee Caravan “None of this would have been possible without our truly wonderful volunteers, who give so much to the project – we depend upon them as much as we did when the idea first saw the light of day.”
Continuing the ethos of sharing information empowers communities (a ‘we don’t do to or for but with – approach) Ann and Sally have been delighted to pass on their ’secret recipe’ to inspired people wanting to replicate the ‘Coffee Caravan’ in other areas of the country. This has resulted in two further ‘sister’ projects, one in Kent and one in Leicester. The Rural Kent Coffee and Information Project was started by Kathy Bugden after conversations with Ann.
You’ll never guess what date Kathy’s birthday happens to be on…