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Chief executive Tim Page: “If our members want change by evolution rather than revolution it will happen"


INTERVIEW: Tim Page, chief executive, CAMRA

In the wake of an oh-so-close defeat by CAMRA members of a proposal to embrace beer styles beyond cask ale, The Brewery Manual’s Phil Mellows spoke with chief executive Tim Page as to what happens now for the consumer organisation.

Like the flap of a butterfly’s wing, it took a single vote to fall short by just 3% for a storm to rip through social media. While some celebrated, others despaired. Rude words were exchanged. There were reports of mass resignations and assertions that, after 47 years, this would finish Europe’s largest single-issue consumer organisation, the Campaign for Real Ale.

For chief executive Tim Page, however, the historic decisions made at its 2018 AGM were not the beginning of the end, but “the end of the beginning.”

That vote, in which 28% rejected a recommendation to broaden CAMRA’s campaign beyond cask conditioned beer to all beer drinkers and pub-goers, enough under company law to block the modernising move, was the only one of 10 reforming resolutions that failed to pass in a bid to redefine the body’s purpose in the face of the challenge from ‘craft beer’.

But it was, arguably, the big one. The one that many argued was the only way of ensuring its survival – Page, though he backed it, not among them.

“There are reasons to be cheerful,” he said. “Our first strategy review has been positive. This is the end of the beginning of a process that will continue for many years to come. My sense is that people are welcoming these adjustments and that CAMRA will continue to evolve.

“If our members want change by evolution rather than revolution it will happen, and if I was a betting man I’d say that in the next five years that sentiment will get us there.”

Page sees the ‘revitalisation’ process as a chance to “realign our purpose with the reality of what we’ve been doing in recent years”.

He explained, “The special resolutions formalise the status quo. CAMRA has in effect been campaigning for the benefit of all pub-goers and drinkers when it comes to the price of beer, duty and taxes. It is already representing the interests of all drinkers, and we’re not suddenly going to stop doing that.”

For Page, the priority now for the new leadership elected at the AGM is to develop a strategy for the next few years – with education at its centre.

“That’s new and it could shape what it means to be a CAMRA member,” he said. “An educational programme must feed the interest in beer, and it will advise people why CAMRA believes cask beer merits particular attention.

“A lot of people don’t understand what real ale is, so we need to spread that knowledge among a new generation, talking to them about the benefits of secondary fermentation, the importance of dispense methods.

“We are firming up a concept that will communicate with members and deliver learning from experts in events in branches and at regional level.”

CAMRA’s beer festivals, where thanks to another AGM decision keg beers will be officially allowed for the first time, will also be vehicles for education.

“Widening the offer at beer festivals is a no-brainer, it’s the best way we can engage with people. We’ll have information on all types of beer to help consumers become more discerning, and continue to advocate real ale as something that can knock the spots off other types of beer - while appreciating that quality exists in different formats.

“Those judgements will always be subjective. The days of ‘you will drink this’ are over, and in fact we stopped doing that some time ago. ‘This is why cask ale is good’ is the progressive approach.”

Page said it was understandable that sensational media headlines have focused on the decision not to represent ‘all beer drinkers’, clouding the progress the conference made. And he remains unfazed by the storm of controversy whipped up in the wake of AGM.

“I’m not surprised at certain reactions. CAMRA is a large organisation with a spectrum of opinion that includes people who want no change and others who say the changes are insufficient – and social media gives them all a great platform to express their opinions, which makes it looks like there’s a crisis.

“The vast majority, though, have expressed no opinion. Many members have been members for a long time and must broadly approve of what we’re doing. We must provide a tangible benefit for them. It’s frustrating that so many are silent, but it suggests we’re not doing too bad a job.”

“No spike in resignations”

Contrary to reports, he said CAMRA had seen “no spike in resignations” in the days following the AGM.

“There were a lot of people in the build-up saying what they would do if it went the wrong way, but on reflection they may recognise the campaign does a huge amount of good. Do they really want to go now?”

Birmingham brewer Glasshouse Beer Company announced on Twitter that it had pulled its beers from CAMRA’s Stourbridge Beer Festival following the “regressive vote”, claiming that it “tarnished with the same brush” small craft keg brewers and “conglomerate lager companies.”

Page said it was a “shame” but was unaware of any other brewer taking similar action.

“We maintain contact with a huge number of brewers, and we’ll be drawing their attention to the facts of the matter. We also aim to give brewers more platforms to talk about their beers, and explain why they think some are better in one format than another.”

He was concerned at the possibility of a rival organisation being set up by modernisers, notably called for on the Boycott CAMRA website launched last week.

“There are those who sit outside CAMRA for whom ‘real ale’ has no particular significance,” said Page. “A new organisation may emerge, who knows, but the bottom line for us is that CAMRA needs to be more appealing.

“The split has always been there, but the overwhelming majority of members are of the same opinion. We all face a decline in the number of active campaigners and we can only address that by engaging with members and responding to their wishes.”

Reaction: failure to adopt disappoints

Beer writer Roger Protz

“I voted for change. I would like CAMRA to be the voice of all pub-goers… I recognise that many modern craft beers are of excellent quality and are worthy of attention. But I also accept that rea; ale must always be central to the campaign’s activities… This is not the time to resign from CAMRA… In a few years’ time it may be possible to revisit the call for the campaign to speak for all pub-goers and the necessary majority may vote in favour.”

Beer writer Pete Brown

“While CAMRA members are still spending most of their time fretting about the kind of container beer comes in, they are not tackling … other, far more important issues as urgently as they could. Broaden the remit to good beer, establish cask’s relevance within that broader remit, and champion the bigger picture. You just might turn cask’s fortunes around.”

Bloggers Ray Boak and Jessica Bailey

“A big, bold public statement in favour of change might have helped with PR, but change is happening anyway, on the ground.”

Glasshouse Beer Company

“Yo! Given @CAMRA_Official regressive vote today we’ve pulled our beer from Stourbridge Beer Festival. We will have no affiliation with an organisation that categorically refuses to support our amazing flourishing industry #craft. We love our ‘fizz beer’.

“More than anything we were excited at the prospect of a crossover of cask and craft working together to dilute the ever-growing conglomerate lager companies’ stranglehold in the industry. As it stands, we’re tarnished with the same brush.”

Neptune Brewery

“OK @CAMRA_Official why should be bother to can and keg our beers if you don’t recognise it as ‘real’ just because of the vessel. BUT you still champion a brewery conditioned cask because it comes hand pulled?”

Ilkley Brewery

“Pretty sad to read this news that @CAMRA_Official members voted to reject bid to widen remit … We proudly made 1 million pints of real ale last year, and love it. But it's only HALF our story. Having #CAMRA be an advocate of ALL beer would have been great.”

Phil Mellows
11th May 2018

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