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Guest Column

CAMRA: reach out to young drinkers

Added: Wednesday, April 18th 2018

Ash Corbett-Collins


By Ash Corbett-Collins

CAMRA National Young Members Coordinator

CAMRA has spent the past 47 years protecting and promoting real ale. If it is to continue for another 47, it needs to readjust its priorities, re-evaluate its actions and, if necessary, make the changes needed.

This is what the Revitalisation Project is about and it is finally reaching its democratic climax.The conversations around this change have been so partisan because we are all so passionate about the same thing – being an effective campaigning organisation. And the only way we can ensure that this continues into the future is to engage with, recruit and activate the thousands of young beer lovers across the country, already exploring their passion and sharing it with one another without CAMRA’s involvement. 

Since October 2016, I have been the National Chairman (now Coordinator) of CAMRA’s Young Members Working Group. It’s a group designed to represent the views of the Campaign’s 10,000 members aged 18-30, ensure their needs are considered in major decisions and help in improving the recruitment and activation of new young members. When I took over the role, the group was in disarray. Years of neglect and indifference had left little to inspire. I have spent the past 18 months rebuilding that structure.

Through hard work and change, we now have 18 enthusiastic volunteers sharing ideas and best practice with their counterparts across the country. For example, Dan Maycock, the Regional Co-ordinator for East Anglia, is working on an idea for a Young Members Pub of the Year competition – if it proves successful, we can replicate it across the country.

Alongside this, decentralising the structure has empowered Regional Coordinators to work with their colleagues at branch level. Combining resources, such as volunteer time and experience, as well as creating a larger pool of potential attendees, has resulted in better success. Most recently, the London branches combined to do the Bermondsey Beer Mile. Last month they had a Young Members meetup at the London Drinker Beer Festival. Earlier this year young members in East Anglia joined together to visit the Great British Beer Festival Winter, saving on travel costs and making new friends.

It is not just at regional and local level that we have organised events. Last year saw the first ever Young Members Forum – a chance for any member to come and discuss the pressing issues for those 18-30 in the Campaign. It was great to see new faces, travelling from across the country, coming together to talk about what matters to them. While there were several predetermined items on the agenda, there was also chance for open debate, which brought up the topics of university affiliation, skills development and diversity – all areas that the Campaign needs to improve.

 Since that meeting last year the group has put together new role descriptions for young volunteers in the Campaign and created a handbook for Branch Young Member Contacts and University Liaison Officers to help them in recruiting and activating members.

All of this is vital when we realise that of the 11,000 Young Members across the Campaign, those that are active volunteers are so few that they are known by name to most. Making CAMRA more welcoming and more attractive to potential new members is crucial if we are to continue. Not just young members, but new members from all demographics. We need to become CAMRA+. The people who are passionate about beer and about where they can drink it do not want to join an organisation that suffers from elitism and thinks less of them because they also enjoy other beers.

Moreover, they do not need us. When they organise Tryanuarypub-crawls that attract more people than the average branch meeting, we need to realise we need them. When their blogs about fantastic beer choice in UK cities gets more readers than a branch magazine, we need to realise we need them. If we want to promote real ale, protect pubs and effectively lobby the government for another 47 years then we need them.

young drinkers

There are several things that can be done to attract and activate young members and members in general.

The most important is to actively promote the career benefits of volunteering with CAMRA. Young members have limited free time and prioritise how they are spending both this and their money. When joining CAMRA we need to ask members what skills do they have and what would they like to develop. That would create a database of potential volunteers to contact and say, “Your neighbouring branch needs a volunteer to organise the beer festival. You said you’d like to develop your project management skills so we think this volunteer role would be ideal”.

We also need to promote the experience other young members have had in developing their skills with CAMRA. I know young volunteers who have used running a branch’s social media channel to launch a career in marketing and another who has used being part of the press team at the Great British Beer Festival to help his journalism degree. It is clear that what pulls many young volunteers into the organisation is the chance to not just explore their passion for beer but also develop skills and experience for the careers.

Finally, if we are to continue being a successful campaigning organisation, we must remove our elitist attitude in regards to cask beer. Cask beer and real ale are not under threat from craft or keg. Today’s passionate beer drinkers, young and old, think about flavour and quality first, dispense method second (if at all). They are often happy to drink whatever appeals to them. As a Campaign, we must not argue against what others enjoy, but promote real ale on its own merits.

If we can tick these boxes I do believe that CAMRA will strengthen – that new members will join and volunteer their time and money to help us continue to do what we do best, promote and protect real ale, cider and perry and the fantastic pubs and clubs that serve them.