Suffolk Rural Coffee Caravan chief executive Ann Osborn has been awarded an honorary degree to mark her work around the county's villages.

The Rural Coffee Caravan addresses loneliness in the countryside and has gained the attention of Government policy makers, the NHS, The Campaign to End Loneliness, national media and academics.  

Ann is a member of the Eden Project Communities Network and the Founder of a community fundraising initiative called 500 Suffolk Reasons, which helps local people who are facing a financial crisis.

Ann moved from urban Hertfordshire to rural Suffolk in 1987. With her husband working away, Ann had sole midweek care of four children, a father with dementia and her elderly mother-in-law. 

Ann felt incredibly lonely and pushed herself to make social contacts in her local community, by joining a parent and toddler group, volunteering as a Rainbow Guider, a School Governor, and a classroom assistant.

With her children all at University, Ann became The Rural Coffee Caravan’s only paid staff member in 2004, in charge of one caravan and handful of volunteers.  

Now with well over 60 volunteers, eight paid staff and an entire fleet of caravans, Ann is credited by the Founder, Canon Revd Sally Fogden, OBE, as having been instrumental in the charity’s widespread success, helping to make a difference to thousands of isolated and vulnerable people across the county. 

East Anglian Daily Times: Ann Osborn addressing students at the University of Suffolk.Ann Osborn addressing students at the University of Suffolk. (Image: Gregg Brown Photography/University of Suffolk)

After collecting her degree she told students:  “I never ever imagined myself standing here accepting this very special honour. I’m thrilled to accept it and I do so on behalf of the brilliant Rural Coffee Caravan family. This isn’t a job, it’s a way of life.

“Loneliness can affect any one of us at any time, it can be transient, it can be chronic and it can make us ill, both mentally and physically.

“Connection brings a sense of belonging, of feeling safer, knowing there actually is someone, some people to turn to, to be with, to share experiences with. Conversation is our social glue, it is the thing people told us they missed most during the pandemic.”