ALE Spring 2002 No. 305

Behind the Scenes at the Cambridge Beer Festival

As some of you may be aware, a lot goes into putting on the Cambridge Beer Festival. My year is 14 months long, starting two months before the start of the last festival, so for a time I'm planning two festivals, then planning one and running one, then it's washing up one while still planning the next one. Wash-up takes at least two and a half months to complete, and you always need to be looking at least another two years ahead to the next festival.

As well as dealing with all the suppliers, site owners, sponsors etc., I also spend a lot of time working at other festivals throughout the country. Not only does this give me chance to pick up ideas from them, it also makes them feel obliged to come and help us out!

This article releals some of the events and problems during, and immediately before and after, last year's festival, so that you can see how hard everyone works to make it a success. And if you feel like joining in the fun, please do. All volunteers are extremely welcome.

14 May

We moved onto Jesus Green to start setting up. I went to collect Snapper, who was joining us all the way from Merseyside to help set up, from Ely station.

15 May

We put up the traffic control office and laid most of the Rollaroad. We had about 10 staff to do this, and finished at around 2230 hours.

16 May

The tent starts to go up. I drive the van to St Albans for the HQ run (to collect things like taps, products, tombola, reserve glasses) and also do part of the garage run (bar counters, all our own equipment). We couldn't do the complete garage run because the hire company had double-booked the tail-lift truck, even though we had booked it well in advance. Meanwhile the team putting up the fence did a great job to fence off the whole site in one day. Another late finish: 2245 hours.

17 May

The tent was still going up. Inside the stillage went up, too. The office and canteen arrived but the customer loos, and staff showers and loos, weren't going to arrive until the 21st (the day we were due to open!) - another problem to fix.

18 May

The beer starts to arrive and goes up on the stillage. The tent is finished. Our suppliers, A- Plant, ring to say they have managed to get the loos for delivery on Saturday 19th. Thank you! Cambridge Evening News (one of our sponsors) print my photo on the front page. `Aaaarrgghhhh' everyone cried.

19 May

0630 the loos start to arrive, and it's now a mad rush trying to get pipes and fittings to plumb them in. The lorry which came to take the forklift away knocked down a lamp-post on the way out - another thing to be sorted out. Now about 48 hours behind schedule.

20 May

I had to take Boomer (a volunteer from Barking) to A&E this morning for some stitches in his hand, having fallen over in the night. The floor starts to go down to protect the grass inside the tent. David Short, the licensee of every Cambridge Beer Festival since we started, came to the site to see how we were getting on. The catering units arrived. The floor is taking longer to lay than planned because it was not taken up properly at the last event it was used for. The cheese counter run was almost done, and the tombola/membership/product stall was finished and looking good.

21 May

Today's the day we open, but before that there's more running around for plumbing for the loos etc.. Malcolm at Ridgeons was very helpful. Stuart Sidaway (the head bar manager), Boomer, Snapper and Wetherman (up from Bracknell) are working hard with me on plumbing.

At around 1500 hours we discover that a piece of the mains water connection is missing. The Environmental Health Officer won't let us open for the trade session because the loos still weren't properly plumbed in, but in the end we are only 15 minutes late opening to the public thanks to the hard work put in by everyone. My apologies to the publicans and others who missed out on the trade session. Now you know why.

22 May

We are already considering the beer reorders. Many staff are diverted from other duties because they are occupied in fitting water heaters behind the bars and food counter.

23 May

We have a problem with the glasses: the half pints are miss-shaped and the pints are coming out of the boxes cracked because they were badly packed. There are big queues to get in and we're looking at yet another beer order. Boomer is to have his own cubical at A&E because he's there so often: this time Vampire (Mike Brady from Luton branch) has sent him off to have his insect bites treated.

24 May

Running out of programmes and glasses: had to send a van to HQ for three more pallets of glasses and more membership forms. The Elgoods brewery dray got stuck out on the green. We tried to recover it ourselves with the Land Rover from the Thai food concession but in the end they had to call in a heavy recovery truck. While this was going on, everyone else sacrificed their lunch break to put up all the beer that the dray had delivered.

25 May

More reordered beer went up on the stillage. The loos blocked up, so Boomer, Bruce Law, Weatherman, myself and John (brother-in-law of Steve Early, the deputy festival organiser/branch chairman/head cellerman) who just happened to be around spent four hours trying to sort them out.

26 May

Last day! Once again the stewards set me up to take part in the children's entertainment: this year I had to lie on my back while Richard juggled three flaming torches over me. Because of an inaccurate rumour that we had run out of beer (something that will not happen while I'm the organiser) we had fewer customers on site today than expected. I called time for the very last time of the week at 2230 hours.

The all-important beer figures for the week are: 285 kils (5,140 gallons, or an amazing 41,040 pints) along with cider and foreign beer (both reordered almost every day), which is a record for the festival. Unfortunately this great success was tarnished by six reported thefts of bags and bikes, and we had to ask four drunks and one troublesome group to leave the site over the week.

27 May

Take-down starts. As usual there was a severe lack of help. The staff party went off well. 1 June. The last load of equipment goes off site at 1015 hours. Hand the site keys back to the council then it's back to the paperwork and planning for 2002.

I would like to say a big thank you to all beer festival staff, customers, suppliers, publicans, husbands, wives and anyone else I've not mentioned. Not forgetting the working party. Thank you. Set-up for this years' festival starts on 13 May and take-down will continue till 31 May. We need all the staff we can get, before, during and after the festival, so why not join us, even for a single session. The staff perks are probably the best of any beer festival in the country. Or just come for a drink - we need you for that as well! But I hope to see you there one way or another.

Shaun Marsh
Organiser, Cambridge Beer Festival

ALE Spring 2002 No. 305 : Next section
Cambridge & District CAMRA