Saturday, 7 May 2016

The Way Forward?

Last Wednesday evening’s “Consultation Meeting” on CAMRA’s “Revitalisation Project”, was an interesting affair; even if I did arrive slightly later than planned. The latter was partially down to the all too familiar “signalling problems” which plague our over-crowded rail network. For me, this meant my train which, until then had been running to time, stopping at virtually every signal on the approach to London Bridge.

The other reason for my uncharacteristic late arrival was the trouble I had finding the venue. Now I can understand why a brewery might wish to maintain a degree of anonymity when it share’s its neighbourhood with the local scrap metal dealer and a boxing club, but for heaven’s sake, some sort of sign on the door would not go amiss! If Southwark Brewing Company’s delivery van hadn’t been parked outside, I might still be walking up and down the railway arches under London Bridge station, trying to find the place!

My late arrival meant I missed CAMRA Chief Executive, Tim Page’s introductory speech, along with that from Michael Hardman; one of the campaigns’s founding members. I know this because a friend from my local branch had arrived earlier; and on time!
The meeting in full swing

It was standing room only by the time I showed up, but I managed to find some space next to the bar where, not only did I have a clear view of the proceedings, but I could also order a beer anytime I chose. I would estimate there were around 30 people crammed into the front section of Southwark Brewing’s railway arch home. Perhaps not surprisingly, most attendees were middle-aged or older men, with just a handful of women. Two or three of the latter group were campaign staff from CAMRA’s head office, but by turning up, and I include myself here, all attendees proved themselves committed members keen to find out more about CAMRA’s plans and to make their views known.

The meeting took the form of a “Power-Point” type presentation, with bullet points displayed highlighting the various issues facing CAMRA today, and with the chance to vote on a number of them as well. Voting was achieved by issuing each person present with an electronic keypad. People could then vote, when asked, on a number of key issues. The beauty of this system was the results could be displayed, almost immediately, on the screen. This system is a really clever innovation called “clikapad”, and CAMRA will be making extensive use of it, as these consultations meeting are rolled out across the country.

CEO Tim Page, conducted the meeting well, using just the right degree of firmness to keep things on track. However, as is often the case, when some people are more vocal than others, there was a tendency to get bogged down in the detail, and to drag in technical matters when they weren’t really necessary. To my mind many there just weren’t grasping the bigger picture, but were instead focussing upon their own particular niche or interest.
A selection of  Southwark Brewing's beers
To use just a couple of examples, we didn’t really need to have a full-blown discussion on the merits, or otherwise of “Key-Kegs”, particularly when CAMRA’s Technical Committee has already sanctioned their use at CAMRA beer festivals, and when the thorny issue of “Cask Breathers” was raised, I had a distinct feeling of déjà vu.

The main thing which came across from the meeting was the issues which members had been asked to vote on back in April, either online or by post, still seem to divide opinion, with no clear consent emerging as to the way forward. I think the team behind the “Revitalisation Project” will certainly have their work cut out in trying to unravel information gathered so far, and to find a common thread.
Tim did say that information, and poll results, from all these consultation meetings (and there are 50 planned at venues across the country), will be collated and assessed by the project team. There will almost certainly be further surveys and ballots of members; although he did say these would be online only, due to the horrendous costs involved in mailing out packs to all 178,000 members, and the relatively poor response received. 
Tim Page and Michael Hardman
All I can say then is “Watch this space”. From a personal viewpoint I am glad I went along. It was an interesting and informative evening, and it was nice to see a few familiar faces. It was particularly good to meet Tim Page, in person, but the highlight of the evening for me, was introducing myself to, and shaking hands with Campaign founder member, Michael Hardman. 

Footnote: If you are a CAMRA member and there’s a consultation meeting taking place near you, do try and get along. I’m certain you will find it an interesting, and potentially rewarding experience. In the meantime, here is CAMRA’s press-release about the meetings and the electronic, key-pad, voting system being used at them.

“We’ll be bringing a system called “clikapad” along to the consultation meetings so the participants can let us know what they’re thinking as the session progresses - and at the end vote on the big question: who should CAMRA represent?

And to make things even more interesting, you’ll be able to see the results of the votes as the meeting goes on. We’ll be finding out why people join CAMRA, why they remain members, what they like to drink and where they buy their beer from.

We’ll also be asking them if CAMRA’s vision and purpose is still valid in the current beer and pub world and exploring what the threats and opportunities for both the industry and CAMRA might be.
Your opinions and ideas are vital to the Revitalisation Project. As well as the results from the voting being fed back to the Revitalisation Steering Group, we’ll be taking notes of the discussions between the voting and using that as well.”


m.lawrenson said...

The ever inclusive and progressive Central Lancs Branch are holding their meeting in October, by which they're probably hoping everyone will have forgotten this while "Revitalisation" thing.

May go along anyway, if only to listen to the mutterings of "It's him. You know, the blogger who's rude about everyone."

Paul Bailey said...

m.lawrenson, the consultation meetings are being held on a regional basis, rather than branch by branch. The meeting I went to last week was a London regional one; there have already been a couple of others. The London meeting was easier for me to get to. The Kent meeting was held in Dartford; a pig of a place to get to from where I live, by public transport.

Perhaps your local branch wants to do its own thing, but October does seem rather late in the day!