An article which appears in the most recent edition of CAMRA’s “What’s Brewing” newspaper raises concerns about the growing gulf between an increasingly aged, active membership and the new, young, “hipsters” of the craft beer movement.
Written by a long-standing CAMRA activist, the author uses examples from his own branch to illustrate the problem. It appears that despite membership numbers being at a record level, the number of active members within the branch is declining year on year, making it increasingly difficult to fill committee posts and leading to problems with the day to day functioning of the branch.
|West Kent CAMRA members 30 years ago|
This situation is reflected in my own, West Kent branch, where none of the principle officers are younger than their mid 50’s. The same applies to the handful of active members we now see. Committee posts are increasingly hard to fill; so much so that one poor chap is covering the positions of both Membership and Social Secretary.
These sorts of situations are untenable; not only in the medium term, but increasingly in the short term as well, but no-one seems to have an answer. The correspondent in “What’s Brewing” makes the point that CAMRA is in danger of becoming a two-tier organisation; one which has sway with government, and able to influence policy on beer and pubs, but at the same time is far less capable of making an impact locally.
I’m sure there are branches which can demonstrate this is not the case, but for branches like mine, what is the way forward? When I first joined the Campaign for Real Ale, as a young student, over 40 years ago, it was by and large a young person’s organisation. This may not have been apparent at the time, but looking back at photos of those early days, in particular those of marches held to protest against various brewery closures, shows this to be the case.
|West Kent CAMRA members 3 years ago|
Today, CAMRA’s membership is predominantly, but not exclusively, late middle-aged and male, and the fact that the old guard, including myself, is not getting any younger is proved by the obituaries which appear on a regular basis in the pages of “What’s Brewing”.
The article in “What’s Brewing” makes a plea for the campaign to engage far more with the predominantly young people involved in the flourishing craft beer scene. This is a sentiment I wholly agree with, and I know many of my West Kent colleagues feel the same. However, there are also many within CAMRA for whom craft beer, and especially “Craft Keg” is a total anathema. This is a view shared by those in charge of the organisation; at least publicly. Privately they might well admit there are hundreds, if not thousands of excellent “non-real” beers produced both at home and abroad, but because CAMRA has boxed itself into a corner by its narrow definition of “Real Ale”, they are unable to come out in support of these beers.
The new generation of young beer enthusiasts have no such restrictions, and base their judgement of a beer on what it tastes like in the glass, rather than on an out-dated and increasingly irrelevant definition based on post-brewing processing and dispense. This unfortunately means CAMRA will be seen as increasingly irrelevant by younger drinkers, to whom no such constraints apply.
So will it be a case of never the twain shall meet? I sincerely hope not, but unless CAMRA is prepared to undergo a seismic shift in policy; a “Road to Damascus” experience, then I’m afraid that as the old guard depart their watch, and with no new blood coming along to replace them, the campaign will literally whither on the vine; or should that be hop-bine?