Thursday, 19 April 2012

CAMRA - A Local Perspective

I attended my first CAMRA meeting of the year last night. It was an open business meeting, and whilst I'm no longer on the  committee, it was good to get along and find out what's been happening in the branch, and also what is planned for the future. It was good as well to meet up with old friends, many of whom I hadn't seen since before Christmas.

I'm pleased to report that the West Kent Branch is doing alright. On the campaigning side LocAle is continuing to be rolled out, with more and more pubs being signed up to this noteworthy scheme. Preference is being given to outlets serving beers from micro-breweries, rather than larger regional concerns. The branch's involvement with various beer festivals also continues to gather pace, with the SIBA South-East Beer Festival again being held at Tonbridge Juddians Rugby Club in July, and the successful beer joint festival, held in conjunction with the Spa Valley Railway, (which I unfortunately missed last year), going ahead again this coming October. In addition there is the Pantiles Food & Drink Festival taking place in Tunbridge Wells next month, plus the beer tent at the Neville Cricket Ground in Tunbridge Wells, during Kent's forthcoming games there as part of the town's cricket week.

I learnt at the meeting that there are some 480 odd members in the branch,  most of whom we unfortunately don't see, but I'm sure they all do their bit by belonging to the Campaign and drinking real ale whenever they can. Of  those who do make their presence known, only a small hand full  are active which means, as in many clubs and similar organisations, the workload falls on just a few shoulders. Understandably people often have other more pressing commitments, but it would be nice to see some new faces becoming more involved in branch affairs. This particularly applies to younger members, especially as none of us are getting any younger, and there's a real danger there will be no new blood to replace committee members like myself who, for whatever reason, have decided to stand down. I'm certain we're not the only CAMRA branch facing this issue at present, and it's one that needs to be addressed before it becomes too serious a problem.

On a more positive note there are some interesting socials planned for the coming months, including several trips by bus to outlying pubs that we don't often get a chance to visit, a trip on the recently extended Spa Valley Railway across the Kent-Sussex border to Eridge with a couple of pub stops on the way, a circular pub walk in the Darenth Valley again taking in a number of pubs, an historical pub tour conducted by one of our members who is a qualified tour guide, a couple of joint socials with neighbouring branches plus, later in the year, trips further afield to both Hastings and Lewes.

This all ties in with my belief that CAMRA should be fun and not all hard campaigning. Looking at the national website I can't help thinking that there are just too many irrelevant and distracting campaigns running at the moment, ranging from National Cask Ale Week, Mild Month (a waste of time if ever there was one!), Cider and Perry Month (we're the Campaign for REAL ALE for heaven's sake!), Below Cost Alcohol Sales (nothing to do with CAMRA what retailers charge for off-sales in their own shops), Clubs Campaigning (why should we have anything to do with outlets that operate a policy of restrictive entry?) and the Take it to the Top, Full Pints Campaign (ask for a top-up if you get a short measure pint, don't get the Government involved on this or heaven only knows what we'll end up with!!).

Anyway, that's enough griping, on the whole there are far more positive things to be said about CAMRA than negative ones. On top of that I had a most enjoyable evening the other night and have some interesting observations regarding the local pub scene to report on in my next post.


paul said...

480 odd members in the branch, most of whom we unfortunately don't see

Well, my suggestion is that it's best to break these people in gently. Seems to me that many members would like to see a social side to their CAMRA membership (I know I would). My local branch 'advertises' their events in WB as something like: "soc, pub name, date", "formal, pub name, date". Tells you loads doesn't it? Sounds welcoming, don't you think? That's sarcasm going on there (I'm sure you could spot it).

I did turn up to a few some years back but they, like your branch, were low on numbers and seemed to spot new blood who could help them in their work. Whoah! Not so fast! Let me see what it's all about first. As I say, once you've got a new person on board, I'm sure it will be easier to get them involved in this & that.

And to ramble back to an earlier point, your branch clearly has some interesting things going on, but how are your 480 members notified? Perhaps you only know about the next event by going on the last one? [that's 'you' as in 'one' - I'm making a more general point, I hope].

Alky_Al said...

Sounds normal for a lot of CAMRA branches, and quite a lot of other community organisations. We have about 10 active members from a branch membership of nearly 300 and the youngest committee member is 55. We still tweet every day, mainly retweets of pub beer lists etc but also to advertise our socials and formals, we regularly update the branch website and our facebook page. Our WB entries try to give as much detail as the rules allow. Result? still no new members coming to socials never mind business meetings, but we'll keep trying because of the disasterous lack of active members. Liverpool has had some success with special new member evenings so breaking in gently isn't a bad idea - as long as people turn up rather than spending their 'spoons vouchers.

Paul Bailey said...

Thanks for your comments, Paul and Alky_Al; it's encouraging to hear we are not alone with the active membership problem.

To answer you question Paul, we have a Branch Publicity Officer who sends out regular e-mail "flyers" regarding up-coming events. The flyers include details of travel arrangements, where to meet, mobile contacts etc. Of course we can only contact those members who have "opted in", ie. given their consent to being e-mailed. We have found though that more and more people are choosing to be contacted in this fashion, especially as we can give them much more information than it's possible to put across in WB.

With regards to concerns about being "roped-in" when one first shows one's face, whilst this is perhaps natural on the part of long-standing, and hard-working active members, I agree it can be rather off-puting. One friend of mine, who is a former Branch Chairman, has admitted that having done "his bit" in the past he now avoids any meeting where there is the slightest possibility he might be asked to do something! Breaking people in gently is certainly to be recommended.

Alky_Al, we also have a website (not up-dated as regular as it should perhaps be), and also a Facebook page. We don't tweet as yet, but like your own branch there is only so much we can do.

Once again, thank-you both for your feedback which I will pass on to our committee; they will be heartened to learn that other branches are in the same boat!

Anonymous said...

Can you tell us the date please of the siba beer festival this year, so we can keep in free in the diary.


Paul Bailey said...

Anonymous, the provisional dates for the SIBA Festival are Friday 13th-Sunday 15th July. Tonbridge Juddians will be hosting the event, as in previous years.