Its not 1975 anymore: The Great British Beer Festival & social movements

In Uncategorized on August 12, 2017 by kmflett

The Great British Beer Festival and social movements

The 40th Great British Beer Festival at Olympia took place last week. I’ve missed only one, the first in Leeds, a rather different place in the 1980s to now..

The event, which was open to the public from Tuesday to Saturday was expected to see 50,000+ people through the door, with tickets costing £14 or so a day, or cheaper overall for a ticket covering the 5 days.

It is a massive organisational task, requiring lots of volunteers. It may make a profit (it certainly should not be in the position of making a loss) but its main aim is to campaign for good beer, whatever that maybe, here primarily good cask beer.

There is lots of discussion about the GBBF on social media perhaps particularly because while as recently as around 5 years ago it was the only show in town, now it isn’t

As John West (@jwestjourno) pointed out on twitter there are now pubs in London where, and it obviously depends on individual taste, you might find a more interesting cask range, despite the fact that there might be only 6 or 8 beers compared to the 400 on sale at Olympia.

The GBBF is changing and I’ve argued that while welcome the change is too slow.

Yet changing organisations like CAMRA, a voluntary organisation, run democratically with its roots in the early 1970s, almost 50 years ago, is no easy matter.

CAMRA’s revitalisation project is grappling with the matter and is in some ways a model of how such things should be done. Yet CAMRA can’t escape the framework that tends to impact many long lasting voluntary organisations.

Indeed I don’t think there is another comparable from the 1970s that has 180,000 or so members with the profile of CAMRA that has remained continuously active. An obvious comparison is with CND which has been around even longer but is active in waves.

The problems are familiar. The membership is to some extent ageing (I’m 60 and joined CAMRA in 1975) and the ideas of those who joined decades ago, many now leading volunteers and activists, are not always those who are to be found sampling beers in the taprooms of breweries like Magic Rock and Beavertown. Indeed the mostly young drinkers in those taprooms should be the future of CAMRA. Mostly they won’t be members and nor is CAMRA making great efforts to make them so. Many after all are drinking not cask beer but keykeg which is a source of debate in the organisation.

So the idea of those who should be the future of CAMRA about what good beer is, is not quite the same as those who started it in the 1970s. They see things a little differently and no doubt feel frustrated that the senior activists won’t change.

It is a very familiar problem for voluntary organisations which is why many run for some decades and then fade.

The fact that the GBBF has reached 40 and is still thriving deserves a celebratory glass, but there is nothing to say that’ll continue. Voluntary organisations have to renew themselves in each generation. No easy matter.

Perhaps there needs to be a specific GBBF sub-set of the Revitalisation debate. Its not 1975 anymore, so what is the purpose of the festival now, who is it reaching, and would it be better if the location or format was changed? Perhaps not, but it does no harm to ask these questions from time to time and 40 is a landmark or benchmark to do so.



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