‘It is great to see people on the front foot promoting all the great things about pubs’ - What MPs said about Norwich City of Ale Festival
Norwich City of Ale has put the pub industry on the front foot, MPs said after its key players were invited to parliament to share the secrets of its success.
Analysis - By David Powles
“Norwich somehow bucks the trend. It has very few pub closures. I salute Dawn and Phil and all that they’ve done, many of it with you, to make this wonderful festival. Well done City of Ale – all hail the ale!”
This was what Roger Protz, real ale guru and editor of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide, said at the opening of this year’s City of Ale Festival. And if anyone knows what makes a good ale festival it’s probably him.
But Norwich’s City of Ale isn’t just good, it’s excellent – and since its first year in 2011 it has quickly established itself as a regular fixture on the calendar of real ale and good pub lovers across the country.
The Dawn and Phil that Mr Protz talks of are co-chairmen Dawn Leeder and Phil Cutter, who had the original vision for the event – and who play a major part in making it the success that it is.
The pair were part of a delegation of five who headed down to Westminster yesterday afternoon to speak before the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group.
There were two main purposes of the presentation. The first was to highlight how an event such as this is much more than the sum of its parts. The City of Ale has not only provided a much-needed boost to pubs and breweries, it has boosted tourism (people coming from outside need somewhere to stay) and the general economy (people coming from outside need somewhere to shop and eat).
It is also one of several events which are helping to establish Norwich’s reputation as a destination city when summer comes along.
Secondly, the presentation aimed to identify how major events rely on the support and input of all those with a role in that community. The City of Ale has received the backing of so many in Norwich - and that has played a big part in its success.
The All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group praised the Norwich delegation, and those behind the event, for working together to bring local real-ale lovers, as well as people from other parts of the country, to the city.
The delegation, made up of Dawn Leeder, co-chairmain of the festival; Phil Cutter, landlord at The Murderers and fellow co-chairman; Nick Bond, head of Visit Norwich; Stefan Gurney, executive director of Norwich BID; and David Powles, Evening News and EDP assistant editor (editor digital), spoke for more than 45 minutes, answering questions from MPs yesterday.
Since being launched in May 2011 the 10-day festival has grown to include 44 pubs, 39 breweries, 247 local ales and more than 200 events.
MP Andrew Griffiths, who chairs the parliamentary group, said the other MPs had been incredibly envious of the Norwich festival and had wished it was in their constituency. “All too often we are trying to react to negative stories about the industry. It is very easy to write a story about anti-social behaviour, or binge drinking, or the effects of alcohol.”
But he said the MPs in the group believed in the positives of the industry, including the jobs it creates and the impact it can have on a community. He added: “City of Ale seem to have really taken all of those and encapsulated them in the City of Ale and it is great to see people on the front foot really promoting all the great things about pubs.”
The presentation will now be circulated to more than 400 MPs and peers, and MPs have requested an invitation to next year’s event.
Ms Leeder, co-chair of Norwich City of Ale, said: “This whole exercise of putting this presentation together made us really focus on what a City of Ale is.”
She told MPs that among the attributes a place might need to replicate the Norwich festival’s success, were an historic compact and walkable city, and a strong brewing tradition.
But she also said it was important for everyone to work together.
Pubs minister and Norfolk MP Brandon Lewis said the group was doing something unique.
“Between the town-centre work and the community pubs work I do with my ministerial brief, I see things all around the country, but there is nothing quite like this.
“Beer festivals tend to bring people together, but this is getting people into the pubs. I love the idea that they are bringing people together, but then it is actually pushing people out into the pubs and showing people how good pubs are.
“There is more in a pub than beer. Pubs are a really good safe place for a drink, to go with the family and have some food with friends.”
Do you have a story about a pub? Email David Bale on firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE SECRET OF SUCCESS
“Norwich is a beautiful historic city built on a human scale. It has a fine brewing tradition going back to medieval times and a hinterland that produces the best malting barley in the world. Couple that with dozens of friendly welcoming local pubs connected by walkable ale trails, add a programme of exciting events and you have the blueprint for a Fine City of Ale.”
- Dawn Leeder, co-chair City of Ale
“Norwich is fortunate to have passionate publicans and brewers. Our pubs and brewing heritage can be traced back to at least the 13th century. Today, the unprecedented variety of cask ale has proved Norwich to be the capital of real ale.”
- Phil Cutter, co-chair City of Ale
“Norwich Businesss Improvement District (BID) supports City of Ale as a key festival in a full programme across the year. The city has an amazing offer of pubs, brewers and leisure for visitors and city users. The business community want to promote the city on a national level and this adds to a vibrant and thriving city centre.”
- Stefan Gurney, executive director, Norwich BID
“The food and drink offer in Norwich is world-class, and the quality of our real ale offer particularly superb. City of Ale is yet another great reason to enjoy the city as a visitor.”
- Nick Bond, head of Visit Norwich
“The key is bringing together all of those with an interest in promoting Norwich. If they can all get behind the event, so will the public. This festival is about so much more than pubs and ale.”
- David Powles, EDP and Evening News, assistant editor (editor digital)