Thursday, 1 February 2018
Evolve or face extinction?
This new approach follows the so-called the Revitalisation Project, which was launched at the start of 2016. Described as a root and branch review of its purpose and objectives, the project attempted to engage with as many of CAMRA's 190,000 members as possible. The project was meant to have concluded a year later, but to the amazement of many, the findings were kicked into touch.
They have now been re-drafted in the form of a series of far-reaching proposals which, if approved at CAMRA’s Annual General Meeting in April, will see a new focus for the 46-year-old consumer organisation, and a radical change of direction. CAMRA members will also be asked to consider changes to the organisation's Articles of Association which will widen the range of types of beer that it represents - including quality beer which does not meet the organisation's definition of "real ale".
CAMRA claim that while continuing to advocate that "real ale is the pinnacle of the brewer's craft", the Campaign's wider focus will mean all drinkers who enjoy a range of beers, ciders and perries will feel welcome in the organisation.
The recommendations also propose that as a result of widening its scope of interest CAMRA will be able to represent and engage with all beer drinkers and with all pubgoers, irrespective of what they choose to drink, increasing its ability to campaign in the interests of a much larger constituency.
Now comes the radical bit; if the changes are approved, the Campaign will, “work to provide an enhanced education and information experience for its members, and all drinkers who attend CAMRA festivals”. The group claims this will help them appreciate and learn about all types and styles of beer, cider and perry - and make informed decisions about what constitutes "quality".
Sounds good on paper, but it will be interesting to see how the Campaign puts it into practice. I appreciate the thinking behind this, but CAMRA will need to take care not to come across as too patronising or condescending particularly towards drinkers of “other types of beer”.
In seeking approval for their recommendations, the Campaign's leadership argue that a wider appeal and closer connection with the current revolution in beer and bars will enable the organisation to connect with modern-day beer drinkers and pub goers. They claim this will strengthen CAMRA's campaigning voice: enabling it to increase the already-considerable influence it exerts on the Government and industry decision-makers.
CAMRA festivals will offer a wider range of quality beers, ciders and perries in all formats.
CAMRA will now engage with drinkers of all types - with the aim of taking them on a “journey of discovery” of why real ale, cider and perry is particularly special.
CAMRA will provide information about all kinds of beer, not just real ale, as well as opportunities for members to learn more about brewing and the different types and styles available to drinkers.
CAMRA will recognise a wider range of drinks and establishments in its local and national competitions.
These proposals do represent a radical shift in policy from CAMRA, so it will be interesting to see how they are received by the membership at large. Whilst giving them a cautious welcome, I have mixed feelings about some of them; not because I feel they are wrong as such, but more so because I feel they may fundamentally change the nature of CAMRA – an organisation I have been a member of for over 40 years.
Some may argue that CAMRA needs to innovate or risk withering on the bine, and that might be true, but in trying to transform itself into a much broader church which appeals to all beer drinkers (and to cider and perry drinkers as well?), might well be a step too far.
I am happy to drink “key-keg” beer, although I'd prefer it to be served just a few degrees warmer, but I am beginning to have my doubts as to how the new approach will actually win over drinkers of “other types of beer”. From what I have read, many other writers feel the same, and these excellent pieces from Pub Curmudgeon, The Crafty Beeress, Ed Wray and Ben Viveur are all well worth a read in order to see this major policy shift from a different angle.
Don’t get me wrong, the intentions are good, and there is no doubt that CAMRA has to change, but will the changes achieve the results the Revitalisation Committee thought they would, when they embarked on this exercise?
Just under two years ago, a friend and I went along to one of the consultation evenings which aimed at kick-starting the process. Apart from the opportunity to meet and shake hands with Michael Hardman, one of the four original founding members of CAMRA, let’s just say I came away felling under-whelmed.
My friend and his brother, who also attended the meeting, felt the same way too. Not only did the debate which followed the presentation, get too bogged down in specifics, but those present seemed to divide into two distinct groups, split roughly 50:50. So just like the EU referendum, there seemed a schism between those who wanted to see CAMRA innovating and moving forward, and those who wished to maintain the status quo.
With this in mind it will be interesting which way the argument goes, when the proposals are put to the membership, and they have the chance to vote on them. On that last point, there is no need to physically turn up at April’s AGM, as all members will be allowed to vote, either electronically or, for the computer illiterate, by post.
We should all know the result in a few months’ time, so which way will it go, and like the EU referendum, will it be a cliff-hanger?