CAMRA have now released more detail of their Revitalisation proposals that are going to be put to a vote of the membership at the AGM in April. I’m going to hold back from commenting in detail until the wording of the Special Resolutions is published.
One aspect worth thinking about, though, is the oft-heard claim that CAMRA needs to “adapt or die”. While membership numbers continue to show a healthy increase, the organisation suffers from a declining and ageing base of active members, and unless new blood can be recruited it is likely to have to severely curtail its activities on the ground over the coming years, especially running beer festivals.
However, this isn’t a problem unique to CAMRA. Pretty much every voluntary organisation of a similar type reports the same problem, that the people doing the work are getting older and fewer, and hardly anyone is coming forward to replace them. This is really a more general phenomenon in society, that more demanding professional job roles and the rise of the Internet and social media make that kind of “committee work” much less appealing. If people do get leisure time, they want to spend it relaxing rather than attending formal meetings, doing surveys and lobbying MPs and councillors.
In the past, joining CAMRA or a similar organisation was often a good way of making social contacts for graduates who had moved to a new area for work after completing their studies. It is noticeable that many of the leading lights in local CAMRA organisations are people whose roots are elsewhere, including myself. But Facebook and Twitter make that less of an imperative.
While plenty of younger drinkers do seem to be enjoying “craft keg”, that doesn’t mean they’re actually interested in translating that into any kind of campaigning activity. It seems to be doing perfectly well without any formal support from CAMRA. And, even if CAMRA did in some way “embrace it”, many of its actual campaigning activities would remain things like surveying and attempting to preserve the very “old man” boozers that the craft drinkers had voted with their feet to avoid. People won’t be motivated into doing the hard yards of grass-roots campaigning unless it’s for a cause they’re passionate about.
Voluntary organisations are not like countries, and have no divine right to survive indefinitely. In many cases over time they will wither away, either because their original purpose has been achieved, or because interest in their cause has declined. Trying to do something different purely to perpetuate the organisation’s existence comes across as putting the cart before the horse. Indeed, it could be argued that the very rise of “craft keg” makes the need to champion real ale all the more pressing. And there’s little evidence from elsewhere that the “trendy vicar” approach actually helps perpetuate organisations anyway. All too often, it alienates established supporters while coming across as patronising “getting down wiv da kids” to those to whom it is meant to appeal. Successful campaigning organisations tend to have a clear and single-minded sense of purpose.
Many of the Revitalisation proposals may well be desirable in their own right. But they should stand or fall on their own merits, rather than being adopted in a possibly mistaken belief that they will help the organisation to survive.