I am a member of CAMRA and have been almost as long as I’ve been drinking (which is longer than I care to admit). But lately, since researching and writing the Story of Gloucester’s Pubs, my emphasis has shifted somewhat from the core CAMRA message.
My main interest now is in preserving pubs: all pubs, not just those deemed worthy by this august body.
Before going further, I must make it clear that I in no way denigrate the good work of CAMRA. Not only do I remain a member, but just recently I have stepped up my commitment from occasional attendance at local Gloucester sub-branch meetings to member of the committee.
Of course CAMRA must emphasise the importance of real ale, it’s there in its title: it’s the Campaign for Real Ale, not the Campaign for Pubs.
Clearly these two interests are not mutually exclusive: CAMRA work hard to support the pub, standing up for landlord’s rights against greedy pub companies and seeking to make it more difficult to turn pubs into flats or supermarkets. These are extremely worthy aims.
However, because the foremost remit of CAMRA is all about the ale, they generally take little interest in those pubs that have no interest in selling it.
Perhaps this is understandable, but it is also short sighted.
If you don’t care about those pubs that don’t sell real ale, if you don’t champion their cause and encourage people to use them, the chances are they will close.
Perhaps, as a real ale drinker, you don’t care. Indeed, the Good Pub Guide (note: NOT CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide) recently caused a furore by suggesting that many pubs deserved to close and this was good for the industry.
Perhaps some pubs are rubbish and there is little hope for them, but all too often it tends to be the working class, back street pubs that are worst hit. These pubs are, perhaps, most susceptible to competition from cheap supermarket booze.
Often their regulars aren’t interested in real ale, and the pubs are not positioned to become gastro pubs and benefit from the higher margins these pubs generate. They are therefore unlikely to be the type of pubs to appeal to the Good Pub Guide and its readers. However, they are often valuable assets to the community and their loss can be devastating
I was having this discussion with a fellow member of CAMRA recently and we found ourselves furiously agreeing. In particular, we landed on one inescapable point: once the pub is gone, it is gone and there is no bringing it back – think of the recent tragic loss of The India House for instance.
But whilst the pub exists, there is hope.
We were having our discussion in the Pelican: 18 months ago this was undoubtedly a pretty rubbish pub. When it closed, few people mourned its passing and barely an eyelid would have been batted if it had been turned into flats (as I fully expected it would be). Today, however, it is one of the best pubs in the city and a CAMRA favourite.
That is why we should defend all pubs, not just the good ones.