Way back in the mists of time, on the 15 October 1991, a small group of beer enthusiasts met at the Old Crown in Westgate Street to complain about the lack of choice in Gloucester’s pubs. In those days, unlike today, they could enjoy some decent Samuel Smiths real ale whilst they complained, whereas everywhere else it was the same old ‘Big Six’ breweries, dominated around these parts by Whitbread.
Maybe it was the beer talking, but they decided to start a regular get together of CAMRA members in Gloucester. The inaugural meeting was the following week, 15 October 1991, in the same venue. Out of 49 CAMRA members in the GL1-4 area, nine attended.
I was one of those nine, and the leader of this doughty group, which was to become the first of eight (now seven) Gloucestershire CAMRA sub-branches, was Alan Stephens.
On Wednesday this week (10 July 2013), after almost 22 years, Alan chaired his last meeting of the Gloucester CAMRA sub-branch.
The event took place in the Water Poet in Eastgate Street. A large gathering of members and a number of local brewers turned up to wish him well and the pub put on a terrific spread of food. Also, the event was perfectly timed to coincide with their cider festival
In those almost 22 years, Alan has presided over an enormous amount of change. There are now a huge number of independent breweries across the county, including our very own Gloucester Brewery, and there is more choice than ever in Gloucester’s pubs.
Being Chairman of Gloucester CAMRA is not an easy job. Amongst probably much else that I don’t even know about, Alan presides over the monthly social meets in Gloucester; with Dave, who has been social secretary almost as long as Alan has been Chair, he arranges regular trips and events; he publishes and distributes the quarterly News, Views & Events newsletter which accompanies the Tippler in Gloucester’s pubs; he organises the annual prices & availability survey; he oversees the selection for the Good Beer Guide; he attends and contributes to county meetings and AGMs; and he keeps tabs on the comings and goings in all of the pubs across the area – no small feat!
And does he get any thanks for it? Not much! For every landlord he delights by granting them inclusion in the GBG, he upsets another 10 by excluding them. He upsets people by negatively (albeit accurately) commenting on the quality of their beer and he gets into trouble for, sometimes well intentioned, comments on their pubs. I have seen him barred from pubs, harangued at length and, on one occasion, shouted at in front of a pub full of members and customers.
But Alan took it all on the chin, shrugged it off and kept going. Fair play to him!
He is keeping some of those roles listed above: he is not escaping entirely, he will keep some of his county and GBG duties. Hopefully, though, now he will be able to have a drink in peace in Gloucester’s pubs.
So what now?
Well, for the time being a ‘caretaker’ Chair has been appointed: Margaret Wilkins, who is very clear on the fact that it is just a temporary measure. In September a meeting will be held to select a more permanent chair, and for the first time there are a number of possible contenders – possibly why Alan has felt he can at last step down.
So, who the new chair will be remains a mystery for now. The only thing I can say for absolute certainty is: it’s not going to be me!
And, whilst we are on the subject of change, the end of another era for local CAMRA took place recently when Geoff Sandles stepped down as editor of Gloucestershire CAMRA’s newsletter, The Tippler, after ten years. The Tippler is a fine publication, which Geoff has taken from a small, flimsy leaflet to an impressive full colour magazine. It too is currently in ‘caretaker’ ownership (you have to be careful with these caretaker roles, they can easily last longer than you expect!). He will be a very hard act to follow.
For more on CAMRA in Gloucester see the webpage, which includes a link to the Gloucestershire site.