A CAMRA confession

I've never attended a branch meeting.

Having had a quick Google, my back-of-a-virtual-envelope calculations suggest that 98% of most branch members are of the same ilk.¹

Which gets me wondering - how many of CAMRA's 120,000+ members are in it for the money? I joined up so that I could get free entry to various CAMRA festivals. And nowadays there are pubs offering decent discounts on cask ale for card-carrying members (20p off a pint isn't to be sniffed at). And then there's the Wetherspoons vouchers.

As a regular festival-goer and pub-drinker, I'm getting a good deal out of CAMRA. But are they getting a good deal out of me?

Can CAMRA do more to attract support at branch level? Or are they destined to be funded by a silent majority that may neither know nor care about actually campaigning at all?

¹ Calculated from attendance and membership figures given by several CAMRA branches in the minutes of meetings made available to the public.


  1. of course increased numbers of active members are required, but the main strength of CAMRA is in numbers and in general the small core of active supporters can get by. Often see different poeple at socials to those who attend branch meetings, different people join cAMRA for different reasons and there's space for all types.

  2. I only joined this year, and a big factor in that was the excellent and beautifully-designed BEER magazine.


  3. Well this is hardly insightful Simon. The attendance at branch meetings in CAMRA reflects much the same patterns as other voluntary organisations. It's the way of the world. Many join, few are active.

    That said of course, CAMRA activists want more membership involvement, as we all would like to find replacements for ourselves. There are very few power mad people in CAMRA, as we all actively seek our successors.

    In our branch as stephanos remarked, we get a different mix at social and "business" events and we are reasonably confident that while many join for commercial reasons, that they broadly support what we do.

    Are we getting a good deal out of you? Well you support our festivals and drink a lot of cask beer. Could you do more and would that be nice? Yes, but you are still welcome. We'd rather have you in our tent pissing out, than outside it, like some we know, pissing in.

  4. I'd have to disagree with Tandleman's comment on "very few power mad people in CAMRA" - it was the very obvious power-mad tendencies exhibited in my branch that drove me to (finally, after a 2-3 year struggle against it) give up organising festivals, actively campaigning in my spare time, and going to meetings. I've ceased being an active member, and I'm not alone in our branch in that being the case, despite the fact that when I initially joined, it was very much so I *could* be an active member. Others in the branch who were also very active (vigorously fulfiling their committee post remits, organising socials etc.) have also now stopped for the same reason.

    I think the problem is that with a volunteer organisation, there's something wrong with the structure that means at Branch level, things can go a bit haywire or be skewed towards a particular group's interests (financial or power-wise), meaning that those who don't have any secondary motives, eventually get pushed out or have to give up in frustration.

    That's just in my experience and opinion of course, but it is definitely one reason why some members in my Branch area aren't active - even if they have been for years previously.

  5. Tania - Not for me to say, but I assume if there were sufficient people who were persuaded by you and your supporters way of thinking, then your views would have prevailed by simply standing for office against them.

    Even so, I said "very few", not none.

  6. While it may well be true that only 2% of the membership attend any individual meeting, I would say over the course of the year probably more like 10% are active in some capacity such as delivering newsletters or working at a beer festival.

    This is probably better than most other comparable membership organisations.

  7. In response to Tandleman - Trouble is, people left one by one, and meetings became over-dominated by a particular set of interests; I've no idea if it happens in other branches, can only say what I saw, that eventually led me to not be an active member myself. Just giving an example of reasons why some members may not be active, I recognise they aren't the same as Simon's! I'm still a member as I do believe in the campaign and that it's done a lot of good over the years (though doesn't mean I agree with it 100% of the time!)

  8. Reluctant Scooper26 May 2011 at 20:31

    I think the 98% is a fair insight. Particularly for an organisation that markets itself on a 100,000+ membership. I bet most people join CAMRA and the National Trust for the monetary benefit rather than the politics.

    There are clearly a number of reasons why some branches fail to engage other members, such as politicing or lethargy. Or even, as has been suggested to me by a couple of members, that a branch meeting of more than 50 can't be managed to the expectations of the executive...

    The social aspect, to me, seems more of a focus to the 'average member' than campaigning. I wouldn't suggest that CAMRA reduce its campaigning - refocus it, yes - but having attracted new blood at beer fests, what's done to re-engage them? A free pint at their first branch meeting may help :-)