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CAMRA, the Pub of the Year contest, the Good Beer Guide and the ‘too many new pubs’…

 

The Campaign for Real Ale, or CAMRA, has the following aims and such:

  • CAMRA works to promote the good that pubs do for society, whether that's benefitting personal wellbeing, providing important services to the local communities, or helping tackle loneliness and isolation.

  • Well run pubs play a pivotal role in local communities but are increasingly under threat from closure with 21 pubs shutting every week.

  • Encourage more people to try a range of real ales, ciders and perries.

  • To raise the profile of pub-going and increase the number of people using pubs regularly.

 

So, it came as something of a shock to many publicans, including those who lovingly own and operate Micropubs, that the local Branch has elected that ‘new’ pubs aren’t worth entering to the ‘Pub of the Year’ competition. Indeed, it is not really known if any of them are going to be allowed into the Good Beer Guide competition either as there appears to be a natural bias against those that could threaten the established pubs and Micropubs in Bexley.

There are 80 pubs in Bexley, of which 72 serve real ale. In theory, any real ale-selling pub can be a Pub of the Year. The local Branch, however, has elected that only 12 pubs should be voted for and, perhaps worse still, each branch member must vote for all 12 pubs in a ranking order even if they find their politics, their business tactics or their overall atmosphere / beer distasteful. Also possible is that some of these pubs could win solely by default as members have to start awarding them points where they otherwise would not have!

Micropubs especially are promoting great beer, working for their communities and are helping to curb the effects of continued pub closures. Whilst we all want to see every pub safe from the scourge of developers, it is the case that the local branch simply isn’t doing enough to stop them being closed by working with MPs and councillors for meaningful change to planning and development rules. It is not the fault of Micropubs that cask beer drinkers are going to havens of good beer when in many cases drinkers would otherwise have to drink ‘big brand’ real ale in tied houses: they are simply specialising in a product that many pubs find an inconvenience and give a refreshing choice.

CAMRA supposedly prizes improving the share of cask beer in the market and ensuring that quality cask beer is available above all else. It therefore begs the question: “Why would the local Branch deliberately exclude the sort of places that are serving great real ale and cider?”

We can’t say we understand the mindset of the local Branch because the infighting, excessive over-politicising of points and the regular arguments in branch meetings makes them seem so far out of touch with those of us that promote real ale and cider all day, every day by simply turning up. They should be behaving like the custodians and cheerleaders of great beer that they want us to think they are instead of, well, not being that. Publicans across the Borough are encouraging people to try all sorts of different beers and ciders daily by having fresh, interesting beer styles and breweries in cask, KeyKeg and more; but they have had thrown into their faces that hard work by the people that are supposed to champion them. We want to ask not only why we deserve this but also what more (or less!) we must do to curry their favour? Why are pubs that aren’t encouraging people to try a range with their stock beers or that aren’t promoting real ale with events or such being entered onto this coveted list?

Amazingly, the Committee’s decision that there is such a thing as ‘too many new pubs’ is hurtful and damaging to CAMRA’s reputation. Worse still, they even said that certain people (including us) suggesting things will always result in failure because they don’t want anyone outside of their insular circle being involved in the decision-making process. We have been vocal critics of CAMRA and the Bexley Branch since we opened and clearly this is causing them to have excessive pride so much that they can no longer see the wood for the trees.

This isn’t about personalities or politics: it is about great beer. It doesn’t matter who is selling it, or how recently it opened: it’s about people going into community pubs and getting fantastic, interesting and different beers and ciders every hour of every day.

If CAMRA’s Bexley Branch insists on continuing with the extremely insulting voting forms they have given to people, then they mean nothing to us. We don’t care if we don’t win these votes: we ask that they conduct themselves in an open-minded and fair way if nothing else.

We hope that they, with at least 3 months to sort out this little affair, will do this again. The Good Beer Guide is apparently a respected publication and therefore the 7 entrants in the Bexley Borough should be the best. Indeed, the Pub of the Year contest may not mean much but can generate press interest and be a fantastic reward for the hard work of publicans that are facing increasingly difficult times.

Please, Bexley Branch, sort yourselves out.

Supposedly the best voting form they could come up with. Even some of the pub owners that made the form were upset, insulted and want to distance themselves from it.

The trouble with CAMRA...

A short while ago we began the process of 'petitioning' to have the Bexley Branch of the Campaign for Real Ale closed. If you are a CAMRA member, simply ask your Branch Contact / Secretary for the relevant details of your Branch Constitution and in it you shall find the three ways that a Branch can be closed. These are:

- The National Executive Committee's Directors can do it.

- By a Special General Meeting called by the Branch Committee.

- By a Special General Meeting called by 10% of the branch's membership.

Therefore, our petition was a perfectly acceptable option. The Bexley Branch has now got less active membership than this time last year, has suffered greatly as a result of somewhat bitter infighting and, perhaps worse, now doesn't have any active campaigning outside of the annual Beer Festival. The meetings seem more 'talking shops' or perhaps even places for certain characters to argue instead of being constructive. It is not difficult to understand why new people would be put off; and it is a shame that a select few who appeared for a couple of meetings with an agenda should then melt away into the background and leave everything behind for others.

Imagine our surprise, then, to find a lengthy letter from Jackie Parker in which she determines the petition to be an act that would be punishable under CAMRA's Articles of Association. In short, she has decided that this petition might make things a bit difficult for the Directorship and therefore they wish to shut it down. Challenged with Ken Oast (at least we think that's his name) as the Chief Support Officer, it has all gone quiet so we assume Ms Parker has ceased with this line of action but we remain 'En Garde!' for Ms Parker's next set of letters or communications. One other thing we would say is really worth mentioning is that no petition is meaningless. This one most certainly is not. 

Signatories so far include local publicans (including those in the Good Beer Guide) and former active members frightened off by the 'current order'.

Convenient AMNESIA...

Ms Parker may well feel the Internal Policy Document is sufficient but individual branches are governed by their own Branch Constitution and it is this that should be used to lead in the matter. If a Branch's membership decides it would like significant action then the petition is perfectly acceptable. Jackie Parker's threatening behaviour as the CAMRA National Chair(wo)man is certainly not right and to us at least deepens that sense of "Them v Us" which was felt by so many in the lead up to the Coventry AGM. Now, the National Directorship has decided that it needs to shut down criticism or any attempt of grassroots change. Look at the terrible state of the Campaign as it stands now: active membership is down, the idea of an influx of new members as keg beer became acceptable has not happened and, perhaps worse still, a request to confirm whether or not the Great British Beer Festival actually makes a profit was rapidly forced into a downward spiral. Even better, when we grilled some of the Directors on the finances they basically confirmed that the likes of Greene King and Wetherspoon had to be courted as sponsors for the GBBF in order that the thing stayed afloat. What a shame it is that, when so many CAMRA members believe in great beer and supporting local enterprise and there they are having to work under banners they would probably actively avoid in the street.

And what of Bexley?

Take a look at the letter that has been attached to the Bexley CAMRA website front page in the last couple of weeks. We questioned whether Bexley was a failing branch due to the fact that active membership was taking a tumble and also because 15% of the beer at the recent Beer Festival was thrown down the drain. The beer selection was so incredibly poor as a result of the over-dependence on a particular wholesaler and, despite the proximity to such incredible local brewers, only 2 brewers were recruited from within London (Bexley and Twickenham) and a couple of others were added from Kent. Other than that, it was a mostly North East and North West affair with some added Wales and Midlands (or so it seemed). Good thing we advertised on the back of peoples' beer cards as the B12 buses arriving at the Kentish Belle were fully loaded at points with disappointed festival-goers and, in one case, with someone who went there just after a drink with us at 12:30 or so on the Friday and then came back by 4!

The interesting thing with the letter above is that the amount has not been given. In past years, more than £5,000 has been paid on an annual basis but this year with so much beer being thrown away and with, that we can gather, less people visiting it will mean less money in the coffers. Either way, the current format is not working. Worse still, when people think of great cask beers they might think of brands such as Arbor, Tiny Rebel, Bristol Beer Factory, Thornbridge, Bad Seed, Brass Castle or Northern Monk now. We offered to get a few pallet deliveries from some of these brewers and duplicate a few so the festival could get some 'sexy' cask - and the festival organisers stated that these beers cost too much. How on earth can CAMRA shake off their image of a pint of Bitter / Mild at £3/pint and save cask beer when they won't buy a beer they'd have to sell for a bit more than £3.50? For shame.

We hope that the Branch starts doing its bit to actually 'Campaign for Real Ale' relatively soon - and ceases to post stuff like this...

Antagonism is their method...

In order to stop the sheer chaos unfolding on what was previously the "Friends of Bexley CAMRA" Facebook group (but now the "Friends of Real Ale in Bexley" group in case people think its associated with CAMRA which it supposedly isn't but it must be to list Bexley CAMRA socials / meetings at the top), the decision was taken to make it approval only on new posts. The only problem with that became that the Secretary of the Branch was then able to decide what he did and didn't like - and the favouritism became apparent quite quickly. Worse still, when we posted the above to give people the chance to sign should they wish he declined it and instead went onto the official 'page' of the Branch and they said this. Antagonising the membership and basically giving the two fingers from the Committee to the lay membership didn't help them - and it got us an extra 20 signatures. Congratulations to Secretary Ravenscroft for this effort!

What's the point of this map?

The former Beer Festival Organiser would accept help when it came to organising beers and ciders. This had two positive reasons: the first being that the Landlord used to arrange a pallet delivery from a certain part of the country. One of them was South Derbyshire; the more recent was Cumbria. Breweries such as Foxfield, Coniston, Ulverston and Tarn Hows were parachuted down to us and, better still, Tarn Hows won the Beer of the Festival. The pleasant part of this all was that the members went up to present the certificate to them and found this map. They decided Bexley Branch needed one of these for local pubs - a great campaigning activity if they could design one that was suitable and which would perhaps also fit onto leaflets. What a shame then that, once again, this one fell by the wayside and all we ended up with was this:

Oh my God.

Yes. Indeed. This is the pinnacle of campaigning in the Campaign for Real Ale in Bexley. Whilst I'm sure the designer tried their very best, it's simply no good. Campaign funds can be used for a real design company and leaflet printing - why oh why don't the Branch do it? 

And this, ladies and gents, is why we have asked people to sign this petition and get the Branch changed. And quickly. The Acting Chairman, a damn fine bloke, sadly isn't being supported and despite trying to stand down he wasn't able to. The Regional Director, Kae Mendham, even suggested when the Chairman tried to stand down that he should stay in post as Acting Chairman for 'up to 12 months' and that a fudged Committee could stay in place.

Kae's poisoned influence extends to her own Branch of Medway which has been threatened with closing down due to her not willing to sign off a democratically-elected Treasurer which prompted the resignation of the Branch Chairman as well. In the event, the state of affairs in Medway is something we read a lot of and their own Acting Chairman, who was the Chairman anyway, is refusing to tell members that he remains the Chairman and instead feels the need to refer them away to Kae Mendham. Nobody quite knows whats going on and, perhaps worse still, this is the sort of thing that is getting rather close in Bexley. Perhaps it's right that Kae is finally stepping down in 2019: she's created havoc in Medway and now, in Bexley, has forced someone trying to stand down from the Chairmanship to stay on when stating to the meeting "Because I don't want to come back here."

Nice to see someone would take on the Regional Director's job and then decide they don't want to have to go to any more than one meeting a year of the Branch. And that's how the Bexley Chairman got shafted.

Well done, CAMRA, you've done a really great job. Shame the pubs in Bexley, as more close / threaten to close, have such a strong team waiting to step in. Or not.

SIGN IT!

Go to "Contact us" and give us your name, membership number and confirmation that you're a Bexley member and we'll add you to the list. We're so close to getting the required 73 signatures that it hurts - please help us to help you. We will get the change we need.

© 2017 The Kentish Belle

8 Pickford Lane, Bexleyheath, DA7 4QW

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