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Changing Times in The Community....

Last time I mentioned the fact that the Beer Festival Season was with us. One notable exception was Huddersfield, where for years there has been a CAMRA-run festival the first weekend in October. The reason, apparently, was that the organising group could not be bothered, and they had lost money last time.

Now fair enough, you want to make a profit or at least cover costs, but scale it accordingly so it is more manageable. But not holding a beer festival sends out the wrong message. It should be a flagship event in the local beer lover's calendar, and certainly for quite a lot of people, they are a destination to visit from other areas too.

You could argue that with the choice available in some pubs - and in pubs like The Grove, Kings' Head, Sportsman, and Rat and Ratchet, Huddersfield itself is particularly well-served with places with a great choice of beers - why bother with a beer festival?

Well, it serves to send a signal out that the Campaign for Real Ale is alive and kicking, for one thing. CAMRA now has more members than ever, nudging 200,000, an ever more diverse mix of people that surely there should be no problem getting people involved in the necessary work in setting up a festival? Well, yes in some places and no in others. The truth is that despite the numbers the active membership is a small proportion, and in many cases, ageing, with a tendency towards failing to reach out to a younger audience, a subject which was the subject of an interesting article from a young member featured, ironically, in this month's CAMRA newsletter, 'What's Brewing'(the same edition that also featured news of their plan, in order to cut costs, of only sending out the next two as an online version to those members for whom they have an e-mail address). So not all is well.

But let's get some perspective on this. CAMRA has had some big wins over the years, lobbying government on all sorts of beer matters. Without that campaigning, the choice of beer we drink today and the pubs and bars we drink it in would be far different places. But, in my view, over the years the spirit of those pioneers who started the campaign back in the 1970's has gradually been watered down and the organisation has become too conservative and inward-looking, and slow to take on new developments in the industry.

Does it matter? Yes, it does, we need a strong organisation to fight against pub closures, the pub groups who, in their most extreme form, are worse than the traditional brewing groups that were there when CAMRA started, the Anti-Alcohol lobby who are coming for drinkers just like their counterparts did with smokers, anti-brewing legislation, the list goes on. It needs to become a more inclusive, outward-looking, and nimble organisation, willing to embrace changes in the industry that are positive. It needs to be a voice for all their members, not just certain sections. If the grassroots are neglected, the organisation will eventually die.

So back to the beer festival. They are important, particularly in those many areas of the country where the variety of beer choice is limited. Not many pubs can realistically serve more than 4 to 6 beers max and keep them all in excellent condition. People in general like festivals, be they be based around beer, music, food, whatever. They bring people together in a different place to the usual ones. It is a chance for like-minded individuals to get together. Maybe, the traditional festival with rows of barrels often from different parts of the country, being served by willing volunteers in woolly jumpers at random church halls and sports centres is not the only way. Maybe the format of events like the excellent Manchester Beer Week held again June spread across many venues is one way forward, with cask and tap beers on show. The IndyFax Festival held the other week in Halifax, spread across 4 venues, worked very well. And coming up in a few weeks is the IndyManBeerCon in Manchester (again), which I would have loved to have been able to get to this time, where the brewers themselves present their beer to the visitors in the setting of the historic Victoria Baths. The one thing they have in common with the more traditional festival is they bring a community with a shared interest together.

And, yes, whilst the likes of the Grove in Huddersfield and Magnet in Stockport provide a massive choice of beers all the time, it would be a sad day if there were no beer festivals in whatever shape they come. And, come on, CAMRA, we need your support....

The Grove, Huddersfield...a beer festival every day


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