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It was with great intrigue that myself and Karl ventured off to Cambridge to attend Cambridge’s CAMRA Revitalisation meeting. Having heard from a close source that the AGM in Liverpool the previous weekend had been far from harmonious, I was expecting a few fireworks… Nothing of the sort occurred and the meeting I felt was fairly constructive. Here’s how the meeting unfolded.
I won’t bore you with the details behind CAMRA’s Revitalisation project as I am sure most readers of this blog will be aware of it; but if you’re not, here is the link.
The meeting took place at the Cambridge Blue. An excellent pub with premium offerings in both cask and keg. All attendees were given a clickapad to take part in interactive voting throughout the meeting. This was a good idea although the person organising the voting could have been a little bit clearer with communicating to the audience as to when to vote. Without desiring to offend, there were a number of older persons in the audience who did state that they were hard of hearing and needed a little more volume from the voting organiser.
Which conveniently brings me to my next point – those attending. I made an attempt at counting those in attendance. The audience totalled around 50 and consisted of around six men under 30, four women and most of the rest I am afraid to say; fitted your standard CAMRA stereotype. This was, thankfully, a topic of discussion but more of this later.
Michael Hardman was not in attendance but another founding member was (sorry – I didn’t note down his name). He introduced himself and shared his work with CAMRA before presenting what he saw as the threats to CAMRA. These included an ageing membership, the anti-alcohol lobby, the decline of pubs and CAMRA’s response to the rise of craft beer.
The audience were asked to vote first of all on why they joined CAMRA. There was a bit of disappointment amongst members that the choices for this question were quite restricted as many in attendance felt that they had joined CAMRA for a variety of reasons. Nonetheless the results came in as:
There were a few comments made (especially from members of the Cambridge branch) about the fact that CAMRA’s overall membership might be quite high; yet this is simply to obtain fast track entry into beer festivals!
The meeting then went through its most frustrating period with members of the audience sharing their thoughts on the decline of pubs. One member seemed to complain about the fact that the police started to pay attention to the law on drink driving in the 1980s. Thankfully the chair of Cambridge CAMRA reminded the audience that drink driving was illegal and redirected the audience towards looking to the future.
The next big debate surrounded the key question: ‘Has Real Ale been saved?’ . A compelling 86% of the audience answered yes to the question. Although a few wise points were made by the founding member in attendance. He mentioned that there could be a ‘cyclical’ nature to this as Pubcos could easily dictate direction. Furthermore, he also questioned how healthy the availability of cask ale in the UK would be if the likes of Sharp’s and Greene King decided to change to keg dispense.
Another point I was glad to see raised was that despite cask ale being available in a variety of establishments; this isn’t necessarily an indicator of quality. Many seemed to express agreement that despite the battle for Real Ale being won, the battle for experiencing a quality pint of cask ale is far from won.
The meeting then moved onto campaigning and representation in the future. It was interesting to see that 78% of those in attendance drank most of their alcohol in a pub.
When asked to vote on scale of 1-10 on ‘What are the biggest threats to the beer and pub sector?’ ‘Pub closures’ at an average of 7.56 and ‘The off-trade’ at 7.45 were clear winners.
This was discussed in more detail and one member put it quite simply: ‘No pubs, no real ale’. This prompted one member to suggest that more establishments ought to be encouraged to stock real ale. The same member also added that those pubs who are good at providing Real Ale need to be better at offering decent non-alcoholic drinks.
The meeting then moved onto membership. Many felt that active membership was doing a good job of representing inactive members yet there was a great deal of uncertainty regarding the future. A number of people (including myself ) made reference to the fact of the age of those in the room and the issues that this might present in the future. I was able to very very briefly express my opinion on the inadequacy of CAMRA Young Members and the need for the National Executive to recognise that this is an issue. This was taken on-board, but no one seemed to be able to offer an answer regarding this.
CAMRA’s key campaigns were then discussed. A whopping 98% of members present agreed with CAMRA’s current objectives.
Now onto the topic of craft keg which somewhat seemed to be avoided by many in the audience. The general consensus seemed to be that craft keg is good beer but that Real Ale ought to still be CAMRA’s priority. Some seemed to suggest that a light embrace of craft keg might encourage more people to try Real Ale.
Next came the big question: ‘Who should CAMRA represent?’ Before I share this I must stress that I hastily scribbled these notes down. I am aware this doesn’t add up to 100% and I am fairly sure option 2 was slightly higher. Nonetheless, due to the inconclusiveness of the responses I present these figures to give you a rough idea. The results show very little consensus:
One member made a point which was met with a fair bit of agreement by others. He felt that one of the options ought to have been ‘Real Ale and Pubs’. Certainly a valid point.
The meeting finished with 83% of respondents feeling that the meeting had been worthwhile.
I enjoyed the meeting and was pleased that it didn’t have the ‘bear-pit’ atmosphere the AGM apparently had. It was constructive though I would have liked to have seen a little more discussion on keg and cask. Moving forward, it seemed to me that most members in attendance want to see CAMRA continue in its current campaigns and objectives but with added priority on preserving pubs and ensuring Real Ale is of a quality standard. Furthermore, a lot of CAMRA members appear happy with Cider and Perry still being in the tent. Personally, I am not so sure and feel that Cider almost needs its own campaign so that it can take centre stage. With regards to craft keg there seems to be an attitude towards recognising that you do get good quality craft keg but that it shouldn’t be CAMRA’s priority; instead perhaps it should be more widely embraced by CAMRA as a way of encouraging people to try real ale. This is my own opinion and one I felt many shared at the Cambridge Blue. I for one would certainly be happy to see craft keg at CAMRA beer festivals. Last of all, and most crucially, all in attendance recognised that active membership and the age of those volunteering is a major problem area and needs addressing.
I look forward to seeing what else happens nationally through this Revitalisation process.