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‘Don’t tell us what to do, come and join us’

In his weekly The Bar Man column, Jeff Hoyle discusses ‘opinionated letter writers’...

It seems that CAMRA has become something of a football for some of the more opinionated letter writers to this newspaper.

A couple of weeks ago, one correspondent described the problems being faced by the Heron pub at Stow Bridge. Situated just to the west of the river and relief channel, their trade has been hit by the emergency closure of the Stow Causeway Bridge on safety grounds following an inspection which identified a serious structural defect affecting one of the bridge supports.

Tracey and Stuart Elflett at The Heron
Tracey and Stuart Elflett at The Heron

Norfolk County Council has been exploring a scheme to fit a temporary support, but admits that this may not be possible and that the bridge may remain closed until permanent repairs are carried out. This means that a large proportion of the potential customers of the pub face a several-mile diversion to reach it or need to park east of the bridge and walk a short distance to the pub.

This has clearly hit the trade and in his letter, the correspondent went on to speculate that the problem affecting the bridge may have been overstated and amongst the solutions he proposed was calling in CAMRA. Not only did this circulate around the local area, but it was picked up by the firm that provides CAMRA’s daily news briefing meaning that it popped up in members’ inboxes all over the country, which is more than my column has done recently.

So, what can we do? We have publicised the pub in the past. It has been nominated for our branch Pub of the Year, featured in the Good Beer Guide, and mentioned in our newsletter, Norfolk Nips, which we deliver to the pub. We have had meetings there and visited the pub on non-CAMRA business.

In a more general sense, I hope that we have supported all pubs by lobbying our politicians on issues such as beer duty, the disparity between the price of supermarket beer and beer bought in pubs, planning laws and much more besides. I have been down to parliament to lobby our previous MP, attended a reception and a meeting of the all-parliamentary beer group. One of our members even went to Strasbourg in those far-off days when it was possible to lobby the European Parliament.

I have offered to meet our current MP and we have been involved in an email campaign to persuade the chancellor to treat pubs and beer sympathetically in his autumn statement. I know some of that does not address the immediate problems facing the Heron, nor do our attempts to save pubs that are in danger of closing and our support for the groups trying to buy them for the community, such as the successful efforts to save the Kings Arms in Shouldham and the Blue Bell in Stoke Ferry as well as the nascent campaigns to rescue the Windmill at Necton and the Crown and Anchor at St Germans.

What I hope it does demonstrate is that our ‘jolly gang’ as we were described in a more recent letter, are taking actions which may benefit all pubs, not just the Heron. What we cannot do is to pronounce on the safety of the bridge and demand that it is reopened. Unlike some politicians, we defer to experts and trust their judgement. I would also suggest that a more effective way of prompting action from CAMRA is to join and come along with your time, enthusiasm, and ideas rather than essentially telling us what to do through the medium of the letters column. “They should do something” is a stance that rarely solves any problem.


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