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I am not going to lie. This blog may end up being a rant. One of the few areas of frustration I have had with CAMRA so far has been issues surrounding Young Members. I must stress, this is not an issue with CAMRA on a local level – but on a national one. Furthermore, it is an issue I feel the top brass at CAMRA are going to need to confront soon.sws
When I joined CAMRA, it quickly became apparent to me that on a participatory level; active membership of those below 30 is low. This view was further confirmed when I attended a regional meeting. Undoubtedly, the middle aged men and women who fill the meeting rooms are knowledgeable and highly skilled in their abilities to fight for the beer drinker. These are the men and women us younger drinkers need to be very thankful to. For it is they who fought for Real Ale when it was almost destroyed. But who is going to replace these volunteers in the decades to come? There appears to be a lack of interest in tackling this issue on a national scale. I am desperate to see this area move further up CAMRA’s agenda.
I soon became the Young Member contact for my branch and after liaising with other branches I soon realized that Young Member participation was quite low in many areas. Doing my own research, student rich areas enjoy good levels of participation but in rural/small town spots (like my own), young member activity is virtually non-existent. I investigated the issue of Young Members further; contacting the National Young Members chair. It was here I realised most the problems lay…
You know that rant I mentioned earlier? Well here it comes! Here are the things I have discovered about CAMRA Young Members over the last year:
Unfortunately I was unable to attend a national Young Members meeting in Preston which took place in late Summer. Following poor attendance, the chairperson had a bit of a moan on Facebook. This seemed to prompt a lot of comments from members saying they simply weren’t aware. I researched all of this and noticed a number of things surrounding communications. A CAMRA email had only gone out a few days before. The national website was still sending visitors to a Google Group which hasn’t been used in over two years. Facebook and to some limited extent Twitter were being used to inform members of dates although this information was often being buried in posts promoting beer festivals. Contact details listed on Facebook were also out of date. Last of all, the actual contact details for the Chairperson were incorrect in What’s Brewing. This poor administration is hardly going to help attract participation now is it?
So I messaged the chairperson to make my points and express my interest in attending the next meeting (this would have been in early Autumn). I was met with excuses about vacant committee positions and time. The term ‘skeleton crew’ was used. After hearing this comment, I couldn’t help but think that you aren’t going to turn that skeleton into a body without communicating effectively to members!
Through communicating with the chairperson I found out that a date and venue were mentioned for a meeting in January; this was in the form of a comment thread on Facebook. I said that I would be interested in attending once everything was formally confirmed. It was here that the waiting game commenced. No minutes of the previous meeting ever appeared. No formal confirmation of the the next meeting ever appeared on Facebook. No formal confirmation of the meeting ever appeared in What’s Brewing. No listing ever appeared on the online National CAMRA meetings calendar. No branch mail out ever mentioned such a meeting. I chased this up but was told the meeting was still taking place as I had been told. I was far from filled with confidence. This small level of confidence was further crushed when one member suggested the meeting couldn’t take place at that venue because of another event taking place at that venue on the same day. A meeting was finally formally announced on the Wednesday before. Of course, I perhaps should have been faithful and booked my train ticket. But with the amount it would have cost I was incredibly reluctant. The meeting took place and it was poorly attended. Surprised?
Fortunately, a formal date has been proposed for the AGM in the Summer. I aim to attend and make my points in a constructive manner.
I, like most young people, lead a pretty busy life balancing all sorts of commitments. I am not expecting CAMRA to be awash with Young people replacing old. Older people will typically have more time available to volunteer. But how are we going to move forwards as a campaign with such poor national Young Member organisation? Many members are currently debating what CAMRA stands for. It would be nice if the Young Members movement had a greater presence at this time. The battle for ale has been won in terms of presence in pubs, but has it been won in terms of the demographic drinking it? Without Young Members organising themselves in a more effective way, CAMRA will decline.