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I became a regular Real Ale drinker around seven years ago. I had returned home from University and I started to drink at my mate’s local. It was here I discovered the flavoursome nature of Real Ale and I quickly became hooked. I loved the diversity of Real Ale and I loved learning the stories behind beers and breweries. Beer festivals presented themselves to me as great opportunities to sample new beers and develop opinions and preferences. My only regret was that prior to this epiphany, I had lived in the Real Ale Hub of Norwich for three years!
I had been mulling over CAMRA membership for a few years. I questioned the necessity of myself becoming a member and was put off by the stereotypes. But as time went on, I realised that good beer is something worth celebrating, promoting and protecting – and I wanted to join an organisation at the heart of this. Yes there are many other groupings out there, but I live in rural East Anglia and CAMRA’s commitment to localism appealed. So in December of 2014 I took the plunge. Here I offer you my thoughts and reflections on CAMRA and some thoughts for the future.
Well first of all, membership benefits are very good. Free or discounted entry to beer festivals over the past year probably saved me around £20-25. You also get £20 worth of Wetherspoons vouchers which, depending on your view, is a good or bad thing! The monthly newspaper, What’s Brewing is very useful for information but the quarterly Beer magazine is absolutely superb. I also used my membership to make a 10% saving on a cottage holiday booking. So, in terms of members benefits, for £26 I think you get rather good value.
But it is my belief CAMRA shouldn’t be a private members club of individual benefits. Perks are always welcome, but it shouldn’t be your reason for joining. I was interested in active participation.
This started instantly with me taking an interest in beer scoring online via Whatpub.com. Beer scoring now hugely influences the pubs included in the Good Beer Guide and I straightaway started to record my beer scores. It is my belief that CAMRA should make more noise about Whatpub – But I will save these thoughts for my next blog!
My interest in being involved on a local level began with looking online for information about my local branch. My branch, North East Suffolk CAMRA, have a website and Facebook page showing local events. I noticed that a regional meeting was happening in Beccles which is very close to where I live. I saw this as an ideal time to get to know people and see what CAMRA is all about.
So I attended the meeting with a lot of trepidation. I must admit I was absolutely terrified. This was eased as people were friendly and the beer choices in the social club we were in were pretty good! However, I quickly realised I perhaps shouldn’t have been there! This was a regional meeting with committee members attending from the many corners of the East of England. Nonetheless, it was fascinating to develop a further understanding of the politics of CAMRA and get to meet new people.
The following weekend was my Branch’s AGM. This was a great opportunity to meet people and learn more not only about CAMRA but also hear news on local pubs and breweries. This has remained the case throughout the year; with fellow members being invaluable sources of information and guidance on all things beer. It must at this stage be stated that I have been the youngest member at these events by quite some years (Sorry guys!), but more about this later!
So through using social media and the friends I had made in CAMRA I was able to attend more meetings arranged around beer festivals and pub crawls throughout the year. It was great fun attending these events; all of which, contributed to learning more about the local beer scene.
I also did my bit for volunteering through not only continuing to submit beer scores but also by taking photos of pubs to go onto the Whatpub website.
So what are my thoughts about my first year of CAMRA membership? On the whole – very good! I have learnt a lot about beer and through older and often wiser members I have learnt a great deal about the local beer scene. The perks of membership have been very good. I have thoroughly enjoyed attending events locally though it must be said that the number of active members in my branch and the lack of diversity in the age range ought to be of some concern. I know full well from communication with other Young Members that this is appears to be a national problem.
Communication generally appears to be an issue in CAMRA. Some branches have embraced social media and email as ways of utilising wider participation and embracing younger people. However, there are too many branches out there that have not done so. I am good friends with an Ipswich based brewer who remains frustrated with CAMRA by their inability to get his details correct for the Good Beer Guide – More on that publication in another of my blogs!
I also last year decided to put myself forward as the Young Member Contact for our branch and I am trying my best to increase participation amongst Young Members. I am going to write a separate blog about my views on the National Committee of CAMRA Young Members but my views at present are that their lack of communication skills and coherent message leave them at present as an ineffective movement.
Moving into 2016, CAMRA nationally have to address the issues of Young Member participation and consider carefully their aims as an organisation. ‘Craft Beer’ remains a difficult issue within the organisation but this does seem to be changing. I look forward to seeing what this year’s ‘Revitalisation’ project brings.
Shall I remain a member? My answer is a very firm yes as I believe that this organisation still represents the best way forward for British beer.