ALE Summer 2003 No. 311

[Logo : Birth of Venus in a pearl; follow the link for an explanation]

30th Cambridge Beer Festival

Before, During and After


Our tale begins on Tuesday 13 May: after over a year of planning, it's finally time to start setting up the festival in earnest. Shaun had already been on site on the Monday to allow Eve Trackway to lay some roadway; now work really started! Tenting and fencing began arriving, along with the cabins which would serve as offices for the week. Although the tenting is put up by the supplying company, we have to put all the fencing out ourselves - and this is quite a task: the footings (which are rather heavy) have to be put out, then the fence panels positioned in them, then made secure by nuts and bolts. The solid fencing also has extra panels to be put on and it is much heavier than the see-through stuff! We realised we didn't have enough fencing - cue an urgent phone call! As well as all that, the lorry needed collecting, as did the forklift, and we made the first run to the garages.

Wednesday: the scaffolding for the bars went up, the electricity was laid on, the toilets arrived and needed to be plumbed in, there was a lorry run to CAMRA HQ stores in St Albans, and a thousand and one other things ...

Thursday: beer starts arriving, there is foreign beer to collect, the fridges arrive, electric and plumbing work continues, there are runs here and there for supplies of materials and equipment, fetch the bar counters, finish emptying garages, etc.

Friday: glasses and programmes arrive, more beer arrives, and all beers are stillaged (then the cellarmen's work begins), paperwork starts overflowing, there are more runs for materials, the cheese arrives, tables and chairs arrive, radios - but hey! We have beer, so this could actually be a beer festival after all!

Saturday: the flooring is laid, the bar counters put up, along with some banners and other decoration. The glasses counter is starting to take shape, as is the tombola stand and food counter. It is slowly coming together. Plumbing continues and by the end of Saturday, things a re looking good - although as usual we are running behind schedule and the little niggles and problems abound!

Sunday: the concessions stands begin to arrive, and it is time to start sorting out the countless little details that really matter, with the occasional "go and get"! However, where are the staff? We can't open the festival with this few!
[Philippa and Shaun toasting the Festival]


Monday arrives with nails being seriously bitten. Is everything going to go OK? Will we have enough staff? Well, yes, and we even managed to open on time! But hang on, what's this? Organisers with suits on! Faint in amazement!

The opening ceremony and presentations went very well, and we are grateful to the outgoing Mayor, Cllr. Philippa Slatter, for opening the festival for us. The Monday evening session went very well, even the inclement weather didn't keep people away; this continued to be the case all week. So, so far so good, time for a beer or two!

The rest of the week we were open was a bit of a blur, with hardly time to turn around and sit down. Two re-orders of ale kept the stocks up and made sure we kept thirsty customers (and staff!) happy. Of course we had a few idiots, but not as many as last year, and the stewarding team handled these minor irritations very well.

[''ere, Shaun, there's a bloke offering us fifty quid to leave you there!'] On Saturday, Shaun took centre stage, not only having to be rescued from a wrecked car by the fire service as part of a "don't drink and drive" display, but also being overwhelmed with spinning plates again at the hands of Richard Green of Patchwork Circus. It looks like this was the best year ever, with over 20,000 through the gate, over 40,000 pints of beer sold, as well as over 3,000 litres of foreign beer, 1,500 gallons of cider, and a lot of cheese, pork pies and other food.


The only major problem is that then we have to take it all down again afterwards. So after the staff party on the Sunday, work began again in earnest. Our new storage system (moving all out stuff out of garages and into more moveable containers) is going to save us a lot of time through not having to load and unload everything twice, but increased the workload this year because the containers had to be sorted out and organised. Even so, empty casks began to disappear, bars were washed and taken down and all the other stall s were dismantled, the foreign beer empties were sorted and crated up, etc.

Monday: work continued apace, and there was a poignant moment on this day. We have given up the CAMRA garages this year, and Brenda Law, who was on the very first run to put stock into them when they were first used, was on the very last run to the garages as well, a poignant moment and little bit of festival history!

By Tuesday, many of our extra hands had to go back to work, leaving just a few of us to carry the burden. However, we got it done by the end of Thursday, and Shaun popped back on Friday to load the lorries, so we were clear of the site by the end of the day. Yes, it does really take three weeks to set up, run and dismantle the festival!

The Branch would like to say a special thank you to the following people: Shaun Marsh (festival organiser), Ron Buchet (deputy organiser), Steve and Liz Jackson (press liaison), Dave Collins (electrician and cellar manager), Al Bailey (site manager and plumber extraordinaire), Rosie Bailey and Claire Mellors (food managers), Mark Meadows, (chief steward), Stewart Sidaway (head bar manager), all of whom went above and beyond the call of duty during both set-up and take-down.

Thanks also go to all those who worked during set-up and take-down, without whose efforts the festival wouldn't have happened, and a huge thank you to those who came and worked while we were open: again, without you we wouldn't have a festival. Thanks also to all our suppliers of beers, equipment, and anything else supplied to the beer festival; to the Fire Brigade, who amused us on Saturday, and to our supporters, Cambridge City Council Parks and Recreation, and all the other organisations that have helped us out.

Here's looking forward to the 31st Cambridge Summer Beer Festival. If you drank and enjoyed it this year, last year, more years than you care to remember, then please, spare a thought for those who work hard to put it together and make it happen, and please consider giving us some time next year, especially during set up and take down. Particularly think about Shaun and Ron, who are already planning for next year!


ALE Summer 2003 No. 311 : Next section
Cambridge & District CAMRA