Orpington Liberals Win London Club Of The Year

Orpington Liberal ClubIt is tempting to headline this as the top Social Liberal Forum! But Orpington Liberal Club, under the stewardship of well-known long-time Liberal Democrat activists [husband and wife] Duncan Borrowman and Grace Goodlad has done far more in winning the accolade of CAMRA’s London Club of the Year 2013. Wearing my dual hat, I’m not aware of any Liberal Club that has won such an award, ever. (Please feel free to challenge that in the comments)

Two years ago, Orpington’s Liberal Democrats were struggling to make the club a success and wondering if it would see through the golden jubilee celebrations of Eric Lubbock’s historic 1962 by-election win. After switching from bland Greene King to a mix of different real ales, a conversation with the local CAMRA branch about the first of the now three beer festivals in a short space of time set the club off sourcing beer from local microbreweries, which has resulted in 60 of the 143 different beers served this year coming from breweries within 30 miles by road of the club.

At that time, the Club could barely get through a barrel of beer at a time. Still run entirely by volunteers, Duncan and Grace worked hard on one level at getting local groups in, such as a regular folk night and local campaign group meetings (jointly or separately!) – and at the same time, cultivating a reputation for selling good local beer. Debates have included CAMRA and Britain’s top pub campaigner Greg Mulholland MP calling for action to reform the tied pub trade dominated by the very same Greene King. The club has a deserved and hard-fought place in that Mecca of beer aficionados, the 2014 Good Beer Guide.

Friday’s presentation by London CAMRA super-activist Geoff Strawbridge was supported by presentations by Bromley CAMRA and Orpington Lib Dems’ own Michael Hall. It was obvious that what Duncan and Grace had done was appreciated locally: it is genuine community politics in action, using the all-too-rare asset of a Liberal Club as a genuine community facility, and supporting the burgeoning microbrewing sector as well as the Liberal Democrats. The perfect antidote to chain bars, soulless purveyors of undrinkable beer: a place to talk where, as one CAMRA activist put it to me, ‘the campaigning is really subtle and not in your face at all’.

As I left the folk night and headed the short walk to the station, I realised that the CAMRA campaign to list pubs as Assets of Community Value might have been designed to protect what Duncan and Grace have done, around their day jobs. Lib Dem campaigning helped, by adding to the pressure a decade ago for beer duty incentives for microbreweries, to bring about the spectacular renaissance of local brewing in the UK that has seen the number of breweries more than double. And meanwhile the floor will have to be cleaned, the next ale tapped (Friday’s selection will mostly have been drunk) and then the day job gone back to.

* Gareth Epps is a member of FPC and FCC, a member of the Fair Deal for your Local campaign coalition committee and is an active member of Britain’s largest consumer campaign, CAMRA. He claims to be marginally better at Aunt Sally than David Cameron, whom he stood against in Witney in 2001.

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  • Grace Goodlad 7th Oct '13 - 11:40am

    Thanks for the write up Gareth! One of the Club’s goals is to engage with the local community and we do that both through buying locally brewed beers (that also has won us CAMRA LocAle accreditation) and supporting local businesses, but also through being a part of the local community. Bomley Borough Cyclists hold their monthly meeting at the club, and Bromley Camra also have their some of their exec meetings and functions. We work with 2 local folk clubs (some of whom you hear perform on Friday), and a Jazz Band to ensure we have live music at least 7 times a month (depends on the length of the month though!!), this again gives local musicians somewhere to play and form part of a local music community. Just before the Budget we ran a joint event with Camra with Geoff Mulholland speaking regarding the beer tax escalator, which has thankfully now been scrapped.

    We genuinely try to run the club in a manner that reflects liberal Democrat ideals – localism, community, openness, fairness….. And at the moment that seems to be working well for us. We also have a weekly “AleMail” telling our members what real ales are on the and and coming up, and a regular events e-newsletter too , as well as a general club newsletter that goes to all members.

    The Club is open 7 evenings a week (and lunchtimes Fri-Sun too), run by volunteers for the local community. We are open to Club members and are part of the NULC and allow affiliated guests. We also allow Camra members to come in as guests 8 times a year. If any of our LibDem brethren want to come and see what were are doing please do – you are very welcome and Duncan and/or I will be happy to welcome you to the club and show you round.

    All hail to the Ale!

  • Alisdair McGregor 7th Oct '13 - 9:14pm

    Oddly enough, and completely unconnected to the award, I’m going to be in here tomorrow night (tues) – anyone down for a pint or three?

  • Great work by all! Remember Duncan talking about your hopes for the club back in the ‘glory’ days of Luton South 2010



  • David White 8th Oct '13 - 12:04pm

    As a CAMRA member who, when young, lived in Beckenham and, later, Eynsford, I offer warm and hearty congratulations to Orpington Liberal Club. Well done!

  • Duncan Borrowman 7th Apr '14 - 2:55pm

    An update on this story. On 2 May, seven months on from the presentation Gareth attended, we will be collecting our runners up prize for CAMRA National Club of the Year 2014 (there are actually three runners up, there being a stage behind the scenes to whittle down the regional winners to four finalists). Geoff Strawbridge mentioned above will be there, but the presentation will be done on behalf of CAMRA’s National Exectutive by Christine Cryne, with her husband John taking the photos. Ina ddition we will be collecting our Bromley CAMAR Club of the Year 2014, having held on to our title from last year.

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