Thursday, 25 January 2018

New blood in old casks

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.

51 comments:

  1. Without getting into the detail specific to CAMRA & the way forward, this is I feel a very accurate summary of where things stand, & the general link with wider societal changes & other organisations is highly pertinent. Naturally organisations attempt after a time to self-perpetuate, but it's not always doable practically and it's not impossible that we are seeing that here, who yet knows.I think the pattern of activity & behaviour with social media and modern lifestyles has changed and this is affecting many organisations. Great assessment is the summary here!

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  2. I don't think countries have a divine right to survive either. But to get back to the matter in hand, I am a bit suspicious how much this is driven by CAMRA employees keen to keep their jobs secure.

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    1. The point about countries is that they will always survive as a population and a physical piece of territory regardless of how, or by whom, they are governed. Voluntary organisations, on the other hand, shouldn't be seeking new objectives purely to perpetuate their own existence.

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    2. I don't think it's HQ jobs per se .I do wonder if it's a chase for numbers too far though . For a brief moment in history the chase for 100000 was important to trigger parliamentary debate. But that's long gone. Is there much mileage in chasing 200 or 250 thousand and is that something to do with it? Genuine question that has crossed my mind. Over to the floor!

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    3. Countries have a divine right to exist for it is the will of Kings and Kings are appointed by God or Gods.

      The vanquished Kings are vanquished by stronger kings and that is the will of stronger Gods or God.

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    4. I was just about to say that. Nation states decline and break apart or get absorbed constantly over history.

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    5. "Country"? It's a Norman word, dear.

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  3. Hasn't CAMRA outlived its usefulness? What would happen if CAMRA disbanded?

    Surely, it has succeeded in it's original mission and should now take a bow and leave the stage gracefully. The availability of real ale (i.e number of outlets) must be at its highest for at least 40 years and the sheer number of real ales on offer surely cannot have been surpassed, ever, with all the new micro breweries and different ales at the hand pump.

    That's one of the reasons why, I suspect, that you aren't getting many new members is because there is little of substance left to campaign for.

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    1. The number of outlets and beers may be at its highest, but the absolute amount of real ale sold is about at its lowest during the lifetime of CAMRA, and pubs, which are the only places where real ale can be found, continue to close in large numbers. Plus CAMRA has campaigned on wider issues such as beer duty, on which it has been very successful.

      And, even if it did nothing else, the National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors would still be a hugely worthwhile endeavour.

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    2. I think that what CAMRA has achieved is wonderful...but what more can it achieve in its current guise? The more recent, wider campaigns on ber duty and the Inventory of Pub Interiors are very worthwhile, but I for one wouldn't consider joining CAMRA because it is focussed, still, on real ale which is of little interest to me.

      However, if it changed into, say, the Society for the Appreciation of Pubs and Beer (or something along those lines) then I'd be much more inclined to join...and I suspect other people might be, as well. This would allow the organisation to refocus its energies, appeal to a new membership base and re-invigorate the debate on pubs and beer rather than on just the narrow subject of real ale.

      The battle that CAMRA originally embarked upon has been won...now is the time for the next battle...to preserve the pub!

      PS Whilst the total amout of real ale is at a low ebb in absolute volume terms, as a percentage of beer consumed I suspect that it is higher than it has been for a long time.

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    3. Not so - after falling for many years, more recently its market share of pub beer sales has flatlined at about one-sixth. Don't forget that 65-70% of all beer sold in pubs is lager. Go in a typical Spoons and watch which beers people are actually drinking.

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    4. "I for one wouldn't consider joining CAMRA because it is focussed, still, on real ale which is of little interest to me. However, if it changed into, say, the Society for the Appreciation of Pubs and Beer (or something along those lines) then I'd be much more inclined to join."

      If real ale is of little interest to you, why are you joining in a discussion about the future of the Campaign for Real Ale? And if you see the need for a Society for the Appreciation of Pubs and Beer, by all means go out and start one, but don't argue for it to be formed out of the rapidly cooling body of an organisation whose aims you don't agree with.

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    5. Mudgie - Fair enough...I'm not up with the figures, but I thought you'd know. I suppose it was more a hope that real ale was more popular than in the past.

      Sheffield Hatter - you raise an interesting point. My interest is in pubs primarily, but I also have a bit of a nerd's interest in brewers and the history of pubs and beer. I'm a lager drinker, but I'm partial to the occasional pint of real ale. I'm not, however, someone who wants to try all the different types, I just like to go to the pub for a convivial session and drink whatever's there.

      Some of CAMRA's aims (more recently) therefore overlap with my interests so, as a potential member of a restructured CAMRA along the lines I was suggesting, I feel that it is worthwhile expressing my view (other people may disagree, and that's fine!)

      Many organisations morph and change into something subtly different depending on the prevailing environment - for example: the charity Scope was called the Spastic Society and focussed on cerebral palsy, it now is a "pan-disability" charity. Another, more trivial, example is Argos which sprang from Green Shield Stamps!

      So, rather than watch CAMRA fade into relative obscurity and start another campaign alongside it, I'd much rather see it morph into something that campaigns on a broader front for the pub and people who like to drink in pubs. (I realise that it already does this to some extent, but I'd like to see this expressed as part of its core values.)

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  4. I don't disagree with the blog at all - change isn't guaranteed to revitalise active members. And what Peter A says above is of course true as well. But better to have tried (to change) and failed than never to have tried at all? And yes, I agree is may even accelerate the death of the active member with some active grass roots members throwing in the towel. But that is going to happen soon. I sometimes do think it's time to let the campaign drift away so something else can rise from the ashes. But then I stop myself and think who else is going to campaign for pubs?

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    1. Let it evolve into a nice middle class beer club and don't worry about it. You might start to enjoy it.

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  5. It is hardly the renewed purpose we were all led to expect was coming. A new fire for a new generation.

    Same old, same old, keep doing what the granddads decided. Don't question the point of it or you conclude there isn't much of one beyond sending money to HQ.

    The best you can say of it is it attempts to reign in the more nuttier elements by trying to be nice to the rest of us folk that drink normal grog rather than be rude twats about it all. Which is an improvement and certainly need saying on a regular basis to a fair number of the twitchier odd ball old timers.

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    1. If anything, the crafterati are even more dismissive of mass-market lout than the traditionalists.

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    2. Agree with you there Mudge. In some of those circles it can get rather weird - "I am purer in my craft principles than you". A bit like factional left wing politics. People's Front of Judea?

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    3. The crafterati tend to be much more against "corporate" brewers, while usually making an exception for BrewDog.

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  6. Make it a campaign for Real Ale and Real Prosecco and it'll be enlivened. Cheers, Spinko.

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    1. Like a half and half? Cheers, Quinno

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    2. Well they do cider so why not

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  7. I agree best wait to see the special resolutions wording first, and lets hope theyve spent more time and thought on them than the back of a cigarette packet ones the NE presented at the AGM in Liverpool 2 years ago.

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    1. Cigarettes cost too much these days, they'll be using Post-Its now.

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  8. Why is it so important to maintain Beer Festivals anyway. I know they're a nice social event (I'm at Manchester myself tomorrow),in all major cities there's no need to hold a festival to showcase real ale, and CAMRA volunteers will never do it as well as the best publican. If CAMRA really is running beer festivals just to fund the running of beer festivals then it's lost its purpose. The Beer Guide remains the main reason for the Campaign to continue.

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    1. Yes, what is the objective of beer festivals anyway, beyond:

      1. We've always done it, and
      2. It makes money for CAMRA?

      There was a time when the aim was to showcase beers that people might be able to find in the pub, but that's not really the case nowadays.

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    2. I get the impression beer festivals continue for a myriad of reasons despite their original purpose has long since disappeared. In part the vanity of retired men looking to organise something. In part making money to send back to HQ. For many volunteers it is a club they become part of where they all meet up with each other. It's about social enjoyment.

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    3. because the UK isnt all major cities for one, maybe its more of a starker contrast being stuck out on the galatic rim of the beer blogging universe, but there is an enourmous chunk of beer and breweries that never sees the light of day in some parts of the country and we arent talking just about basically beers from entire regions like the NW are unheard of in parts of East Anglia, but quite alot of beer wont even travel across neighbouring counties, Essex to Norfolk to Suffolk,outside of the familiar names theres not alot of beer travelling around, because most local pubs still stick with what they are familiar with and that consistently sells well for them. So a beer festival is often the only chance youll get to sample beers that arent the normal set of beers you get in the pub.

      and fwiw I dont see the "young" craft beer enjoying lot stepping up and arranging their own festivals on such a wide a scale as CAMRA volunteers currently do, yeah Im sure Manchester London they can and I know they do, but CAMRA isnt just Manchester and London is it.

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    4. Events like IndyMan and Craft Beer Rising are essentially commercial ventures where the organisers manage to get craft beer enthusiasts to work for free - a good trick if you can do it. They're not volunteer-led festivals like those run by CAMRA.

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    5. CAMRA slap their brand on a fair number of none volunteer led festivals.

      After deciding to volunteer for a CAMRA festivasl to see what it was like I got a slew of emails asking me to volunteer for more. Most of which were the beards treating their volunteers like an unpaid agency and selling them on to 3rd party festivals needing staff. Festivals where members don't get a say and their is no organising committee to punt up to should you wish to have one. CAMRA supply the staff and get a fee and the volunteer gets a few halves of bitter. That's "In Association with CAMRA" Kerching.

      You'd have to be a proper mug to let them treat you like that.

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  9. "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"

    Surely the craft keg (and cask) thing is doing well because it's dissociated itself from beard club which its target market associates with brown beer and oldies pubs? It doesn't need campaigning support because the new wave of brewers are more than capable of promoting their beers - and often do so at every opportunity - good and bad.

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    1. People drink it because (a) they like it and (b) it's sold in the cool happening places they like to go. I don't think CAMRA's attitude matters much one way or the other.

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    2. I think CAMRA's attitude is exactly what puts younger drinkers off 'boring' beer and pubs.

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    3. The other Mudgie !28 January 2018 at 12:26

      Yes, people drink it because it's sold in the cool happening places they like to go but are you sure that “they like it”?
      I see history repeating itself and I remember forty-five years ago my then hipster friends would drink Worthington E and Double Diamond because that was the trendy thing to do, and maybe because it cost more and therefore must be better, but I had no reason to believe that they liked it more than M&B Brew XI or Ansells Bitter.

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    4. Oh, I'm sure there is a strong element of genuine interest and enthusiasm there, but on the other hand I'd agree that a lot of it is just following fashion. The equivalents of the people who are now doing the Piccadilly Beer Mile would have been going round basic Holts pubs in Eccles forty years ago.

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    5. The other Mudgie !29 January 2018 at 15:21

      Yes, an element of genuine interest and enthusiasm in a significant minority of young drinkers but also ‘just following fashion’.
      I’m too old and curmudgeonly to have done the Piccadilly Beer Mile but I well remember a joint Potteries and ‘Stafford & Stone’ crawl of the eight Holts pubs from Eccles to Patricroft about thirty years ago that somehow just attracted one member from each branch but Rob Wagstaff and I still reminisce about what a proper day out it was.

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  10. The other Mudgie !26 January 2018 at 12:08

    Yes, a very pertinent article and “putting the cart before the horse” is what the Revitalisation Project is all about, looking after CAMRA rather than looking after Real Ale. If the recommendations were accepted I would expect CAMRA to gain less active “craft” drinking hipsters than it would lose active older members.
    As for Peter Allen’s comment on “if it changed into, say, the Society for the Appreciation of Pubs and Beer” well, yes, that would be an honest way of going about it, having a motion or special resolution to that effect, or even the “craft hipsters” setting up their own organisation a bit like those four men did in 1971 when they must have thought the SPBW wasn’t really the way forward.

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  11. Good point about the issues with voluntary organisations - there was an American book Bowling Alone about this phenomene from the late 90s/early 00s back in the Internet's infancy when modern social media didn't exist.

    "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"

    I've found that the case staying put in Birmingham after leaving uni, but yes there are more options than before, including Internet organised groups where meeting new people is the unashamed main purpose rather than a by product of shared interests.

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  12. Does craft beer need CAMRA? No.
    Does CAMRA need craft beer? Yes, I think it does.

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  13. The author perhaps implies this, but real wages have fallen by 3% since 2008, while rents have continued to soar, so many of the young are working long hours just to make ends meet. Coupled with that, CAMRA is maybe seen as yet another province, like home ownership, of the Baby Boomers.

    However, there is one voluntary organisation, to which they have lately been flocking in their hundreds of thousands for some reason. It is that one headed by one Jeremy Corbyn.

    Cheers, Ethelred The Unsteady

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    1. CAMRA isn't short of members as such, just active members. And there's a question mark over how much "hard yards" grassroots campaigning the Momentumites are actually prepared to do.

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    2. Well, there are about thirty-five thousand Momentum members, out of a total party membership of some half-a-million, while the elderly Tories press on with about a hundred-and-thirty thousand I read. That's about the same as that minority party, the French commies.( It's little facts like that, which have earned me a couple of million red arrows on the Daily Mail comments threads).

      So what CAMRA might take from that who knows? I'm not sure that doorstepping or leafleting Joe Public would do much good. Maybe they could write lies on the side of a bus though? "Real Ale Can Improve The Laws Of Physics", that sort of thing?

      Cheers, Ethelred The Unsteady

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  14. I've mixed feelings about the whole exercise - is it too little, too late? Have CAMRA being procrastinating over the findings of the "Revitalisation Project" for too long?

    Much of what needs to be said has been said, so before chipping in with my four penny worth, I'll stand back and see how the special resolutions are worded.

    Btw. Jeremy Corbyn is an old man who grows his own veg on his allotment. Where is the attraction there for the yoof?

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  15. I have some sympathy for Peter Allen's point, but I don't think that it's realistically going anywhere. I'm not a CAMRA member either, though I do prefer real ale. If the pub is a good one, then a choice of three is ample for me, and I quite enjoy being constrained to try whatever is on offer in different places. I'm not really interested in the technicalities or history of brewing and cellarmanship either.

    I think that the other side of his coin bears consideration though.

    There seems to be a presumption here and there, that being an expert in the said fields also qualifies one to assert a pub to be good or bad on the rest of its attributes, and I can't see why that should be. For instance, if a bar specialises in cocktails, then I don't see why it should be condemned out-of-hand in quite sullen terms, say, on a website that claims to be for "pub lovers of all persuasions", simply because it does not sell real ale.

    So if CAMRA did take the direction that Peter suggested, then it's hard to see how that particular anomaly would be avoided. If I have understood the blogger correctly previously, then he seems to agree, that what a pub or bar sets out to do should always be considered when passing on an opinion.

    Cheers, Ethelred The Unsteady

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    1. I think you're right - if something approaching what I'm suggesting was to be attempted it would be very difficult to encompass under one umbrella. It would probably end up being like the Tory (or Labour) Party who both have their own ideals, but have massive splits in them. There'd be the 'Beer' wing and the 'Pub' wing which, in theory, has a great deal of crossover, but would they be able to work together on all issues? I'm an optimist and hope that they could!

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  16. I don't have all the statistics about the popularity of real ale compared to 30 years ago etc, but I believe that beer quality has suffered in relation to quantity, and CAMRA should recognise the problem more. I also agree that a more broadly-based 'Campaign for Pubs and Beer' is a good idea - some kind of PR campaign in which traditional brewers and 'crafts' join forces could wake things up a bit?

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    1. The other Mudgie !28 January 2018 at 13:31

      With cellar cooling, smaller bore pipes and smaller casks the quality of real ale should be far better than it was thirty years ago but it isn’t simply because all too often more cask beers are offered than there is the proper demand for, and CAMRA’s and the Good Beer Guide’s emphasis on ‘choice’ has only made things worse.

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  17. It's interesting that a Twitter poll I am currently running has so far received 76 votes, and is currently showing more than twice as many saying that some acceptance of non-real beers would make them less likely to be active in CAMRA, compared with those saying it would make them more active.

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    1. Consider your own Stockport Branch. It is little different from any other Branch I've seen.

      You think you are active 'cos you go on a pong crawl & punt up to meetings. That's nowt, fella.

      There is a handful who live and breath it day in day out. CAMRA is their life, more or less.

      They distribute the magazine, sit on the committee, do an admin job for the branch, go to the branch meeting, go to all the awards midweek & weekend then go to the festival committee meeting. They volunteer for anything & everything. It ain't a hobby, it's a way of life. Ever noticed how them are by and large cask or die? Most of them hate keg with a vitriol that has you realising "it's only beer, Jesus wept" The most strident are the most active & most committed.

      It really is a handful of old blokes. Without them there's buggar all you could call a branch. If they decide they don't want to spend their own time campaigning for the craft keg you better hope all the crafties really do come out of the woodwork.

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    2. The other Mudgie !29 January 2018 at 19:29

      CL,
      But if all the crafties really do come out of the woodwork do you really expect them to get involved in the work now done by a handful of old blokes or will they just enthuse over “keg beer with hops in it”?

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