In the March 2019 edition of CAMRA’s What’s Brewing newspaper, a letter was submitted by the East Anglia Young Members Regional Co-ordinator and various Young Members branch co-ordinators/contacts raising concerns about the future of CAMRA and the difficulty in attracting the members to become more active. The possibility of CAMRA turning into a “…pensioner’s drinking club…” was raised. Do they have a point?

Well, from what has been observed at a branch level, quite possibly and it is not restricted to pensioners! CAMRA currently has over 190,000 members. That is more than most of the political parties in the country. It is continually striving to increase the membership as this will raise more funds to support the campaign and give a stronger voice. As a result, the campaign should have quite a bit of clout. To get its voice heard though, the CAMRA members need to be involved.

Whilst the large membership should aid this, many appear to be “sleeping” members who have joined more for the benefits (such as, the discount vouchers and free/reduced entry to beer festivals) rather than what they can contribute. 

The worst example of the “drinking club” mentality is, arguably, reflected in the attitude of some of the “tickers” that attend our annual beer festival. Bradford Beer Festival is run for everyone, including those who are not part of the campaign, with the aim of promoting CAMRA and the Bradford Branch, introducing people to the wonders of real ale and providing an opportunity to become involved with the campaign. To give everyone an equal chance of enjoying the festival, the sessions are ticketed (with the exception of Friday afternoon) and we aim to ensure all beers are available during every session. This means that the popular beers have to be rationed and may not be available for the whole session duration. This ensures there is some left for the final session. Whilst people can be disappointed when the beer they wanted to try is no longer available, they usually accept and understand the reasons why. It may not be a wholly satisfactory situation but neither is letting the beers run-out reducing the choice for those who are attending the later sessions. However, some of the “tickers” take the selfish attitude that every beer should be available throughout the whole session just for them. If they want the opportunity to try all the beers, maybe they could think about volunteering to work at the festival!

It has been argued that CAMRA no longer has a purpose as real ale has now been saved. Certainly, the number of breweries and the varieties of real ales on offer is, perhaps, the greatest it has ever been. However, this is not a reason to stop campaigning.

Because of the way real ale is stored and dispensed, there are principally only two ways to enjoy it, in a pub or at a beer festival.

Beer festivals, on their own, will not sell enough real ale to keep breweries viable and, as a result, there is a significant dependence on the pub trade.  However, pubs are continuing to close, currently at an average rate of 14 every week. If pubs are not saved, this will impact on the availability of real ale and the viability of breweries. If no-one campaigns against this, pubs will be lost and the availability of real ale will become very restricted or, possibly, non-existent in some areas.

Just drinking in pubs is not enough to stop this happening as there are many other factors that are driving the closures. By doing nothing other than drinking real ale, the “drinking club” will have effectively shot itself in the foot.

From a branch perspective, the Bradford Branch currently has over 1,000 members. However, of these, only around 20-30 regularly attend social events and branch meetings. Similarly, there is a small number of members that contribute to branch activities. An even smaller proportion are regularly active within the branch and many of these are having to perform multiple tasks which places an increased burden on them. We are, at least, blessed with a decent number of volunteers for our annual beer festival but this only occurs once a year and primarily focusses on one aspect of the campaign.

It seems that many members are happy to drink real ale but less inclined to become involved with CAMRA’s activities. This is evidenced at branch level by the relatively small number of people who contribute to the campaign. If this situation is not addressed, there will come a time when those currently running the branch and managing its activities are no longer able to do so. The branch could become ineffective or cease to exist. Many of the activities that CAMRA undertakes cost nothing except a little time.

The following activities do not make a huge demand on members but significantly contribute towards the branch’s campaigning activities: 

  • Submitting nominations and votes for the branch Pub of the Year and Pub of the Season awards. 

  • Nominating pubs for the branch submission to the Good Beer Guide.

  • Undertaking pub surveys and sending amendments via WhatPub.

  • Updating pub details on WhatPub.

  • Beer scoring via WhatPub.

  • Commenting on and objecting to planning applications.

To contribute to these activities, it is not necessary to be part of the Branch Committee or to attend all the branch events. They can be performed in the pub or at home. For those that involve the use of a computer (such as, updating WhatPub), training can be given on request. If you have any questions or would like to know more, please contact the key members of the Committee (details on the CAMRA Bradford website and in Tyke Taverner) or attend a social event or branch meeting and make yourself known.

We ask that all our members consider what they can do to contribute to the running of the campaign both at National and branch level. If you are reading this and you are not currently a CAMRA member and you love real ale, cider and perry and want to do something to ensure its future availability, please join and become involved with the branch activities.

If CAMRA becomes nothing more than a “drinking club” then we risk losing what we cherish.

Peter D. Down, Deputy Chairman CAMRA – Bradford Branch  

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