Interview with Gary Timmins, CAMRA’s new National Executive member
I met with Gary at The Wellington in Birmingham – a pub not only known for having 14+ hand pulls offering a great range of very well kept beers, but also for being very handy to New Street train station and somewhere that you can drop in for a pint and bring your take away meal in too.
I was immediately struck by, not only Gary’s encyclopaedic knowledge of beer, pubs, breweries and the characters associated with them, but his enormous enthusiasm and determination to perform his roles in a systematic, and where necessary, ruthless manner to get CAMRA to work at its very best, for the benefit for the beer/cider trade and its drinkers.
He has recently been promoted from West Midlands Regional Director to the CAMRA National Executive. With beers in hand I asked him …
1. How many people are there on the CAMRA National Executive Committee and what do they do?
CAMRA is led by a Board of Directors known as its National Executive (NE) and this board, made up of 12 members, sets out our direction and strategy and is directly elected by our membership. All members are unpaid volunteers and one third of the board has to stand down every year for election. The NE members look after a particular area such as festivals, marketing or finance. More details are to be found at www.camra.org.uk/about/about-us/national-executive/
2. What’s your background with CAMRA, pubs and beer?
I was first introduced to pubs by my Dad. I was given a beer (Carling Black Label) told to sit in the corner, back to the wall, keeping an eye on what what’s going on … and behave!
Living in Walsall, my route into CAMRA came via an unexpected invitation to become a member of a group known as The Friends of Highgate Brewery. This late Victorian Walsall Tower brewery (apart from brewing Highgate Mild produced past gems such as Smiles and Davenports) was going through a number of changes and I ended up serving behind the bar and being very active on the committee. My discovery of cloudy still ciders (and the following of equally novel and interesting people) led me to be asked to get involved in the Walsall Beer festival. I went to a Walsall branch CAMRA meeting at The Pretty Bricks (an early Victorian Walsall ‘back street gem’, known for its brick facade) to discover that the branch was about to fold … and it was announced that I had been nominated, seconded and confirmed as the new branch chair! Shocked?, Yep. Stitched up? Definitely.
But I took on the challenge. I doubled the membership and branch magazine circulation in three years and transformed the magazine along the way. A similar meeting, at the amazing Somers Club in Halesowen, led to me being elected as West Midlands Regional Director. I set up the Regional Strategic Planning Group (SPG, I’m a Young Ones Fan) to collate information from across the region so enabling me to give an accurate report to the NE.
Working for Land Rover, I am used to being systematic and self evaluative, addressing issues head on when necessary, so I applied this approach to my CAMRA ‘work’,
I threw myself into this role, attending meetings throughout the region, pushing to make meetings more fun and more effective for CAMRA’s campaign as well as holding key members to account for what they were achieving.
We set up West Midlands Regional Polo-shirts, WM logos and broadened the annual regional awards event – including a great new trophy for Pub of the Year.
Seeing more to do at a national level I decided not to ‘put up or shut up’ so standing to join the National Executive this year became my natural step. I now support 213 CAMRA branches and 194,000 members.
3. What have been your guiding principles in your CAMRA roles?
Teamwork and sociability, but even though we are all volunteers work with
PRIDE, PACE, PASSION AND PROFESSIONALISM.
4. What have been CAMRA’s recent successes?
CAMRA is a campaign at its core. From local branches fighting to save pubs from closure to national ‘Lobby Days’ on the steps of parliament we work to keep pubs open and beer affordable.
CAMRA continues to be concerned about the number of pub closures, which is currently 14 pubs a week.
CAMRA has successfully persuaded the Government of 2014 to introduce the Pubs Code and Adjudicator in England to govern the relationship between large pub-owning companies and licensees. Between 20016 and 2018 our English members nominated 2,000 pubs as ‘Assets as Community Value’ with local councils strengthening the protection for pubs. As a result a law was passed to require developers to seek planning permission before demolishing or converting a pub. We’ve also successfully campaigned for a reduction in beer duty and business rates resulting in a freeze in beer duty in 2017 and 2018 as well as a new business rate relief package for pubs in 2018.
5. What needs doing to keep quality cask ale in our pubs?
CAMRA continues to be concerned about the number of pub closures, which is currently 14 pubs a week. CAMRA has launched its ‘Save Our Pubs’ campaign which has three main asks – to cut beer duty, reduce business rates and to ensure that the Pubs Code and Adjudicator is working effectively for tenants. We believe that a combination of these three issues is leading to pub closures and making the price of a pint unaffordable for many, driving beer sales out of pubs and towards supermarkets for home consumption.
We have encouraged drinkers back into pubs with actions such as our ‘Summer of the Pub’ campaign.
6. Can you tell us about the new CAMRA members’ voucher scheme?
The new scheme gives members more from their membership. Replacing the tradition of just Wetherspoon vouchers the new system which gives 50p off a pint at 1,500 pubs across the country, still including Wetherspoons, but also includes others such as Stonegate Pub Company, S.A. Brains, Castle Rock Brewery and Amber Taverns. It is complemented by the CAMRA Discount Scheme, which covers 3,500 independent pubs across the country with them each offering their own level of discount to card carrying members. Our aim is to make pub-going more affordable for our members, and in turn, better support the pub trade by driving footfall.
7. What are your favourite brews?
Walsall’s Highgate Dark Mild got me into real ale (a beer I still miss). I go for Sarah Hughes’s Dark Ruby Mild and Titanic’s Plum Porter and also particularly enjoy Kinver Brewery’s Half Centurion and Beowulf’s Dragon Smoke Stout, the richness of Fuller’s Bengal Lancer IPA and as a contrast the refreshing Oakham Citra, but my new favourite may well be the next exciting new beer that I try …