No, this is not a post about The Campaign For Real Ale's acceptance/dismissal of the alleged Craft Keg Revolution. You can go practically anywhere in Beerblogland for that. This is a post about CAMRAs activities at local level, what's happening to it, and what may have to happen in the future.
CAMRA has been around for over 40 years. The members who do the Branch Meetings, local mags, GBG reviews and socials have been around almost as long. They typically joined back in the 1970s when they were in their 20s or 30s. All fine and dandy. The 1970s were a time of upheaval and social change, and it's nice to be part of something you believe in. But these active members are are still there, nearly 40 years later. And they're in their 60s and 70s now.
RedNev recently posted about taking over his local CAMRA magazine. One by one, his associates dropped out due to not wanting the hassle at their advanced ages, until he was the only person left running it. And now, he too has to give it up. From what I can gather, such things are true in many branches - the active stalwarts running things are aging and possibly may not be around for much longer. And who will run things locally then?
As to why the younger members are not replacing them, well, there are the usual reasons. Busy lives, lack of time, work pressures, fewer incentives to campaign about things in the 21st Century. But I believe the main reasons are this :
(1) I joined CAMRA last year. I read the local magazine which exhorted for more active local members (only 15 out of nearly 1000 in my branch). I also looked at the numerous pictures. Let's face it - I work evenings, and I don't really want to spend my 2 days off a week hanging around with men older than my father. And if, at 37, I think that, what does any prospective member fifteen years younger than I think?
(2) Related to that, CAMRA activities seem to be a mixture of 70s style politicking and OAPs' day tripping. Sit in on a Committee, visit a local brewery, watch a Pub-of-the-month award being presented. These things are not going to be considered particularly diverting to many people under the age of 45.
So, what will happen when the stalwarts die off, move away or simply cannot cope with running things at 70+? Personally, I think the concept of the local branch will die. The whole activity will run via web-polls and forums, Good Beer Guide ratings, the lot. There are so many breweries now, you can probably ask to look around if you ring up and say you want to visit, rather having the local CAMRA branch organise things for you. There will be a local website for Pub information, but that will be it for grassroots activity. It's easier to do a website than a magazine, after all.
The Campaign For Real Ale is not really an organisation that a twentysomething in 2013 would boast about being a member (CAMRA obviously know this, as they have a concessionary membership for the under 26s). Even if they join, the average activities of a local branch are unlikely to interest them. The way forward is the internet, as ever, and it should be used to connect members who may not want to sit in a upstairs pub room with a pint of mild, an Agenda and a risk of being asked to take the Minutes. Who knows? They may meet up in a pub and drink some beer, but it will be informal. Informality is everything.
As I said at the start of this blog. Beer and pubs should be fun. When it starts becoming work and a chore to get through, it's time to take a step back. CAMRA should take note, and maybe think that their current structure is leaving them behind.