Monday, 6 May 2013

"There Are Planners, Plodders And Plonkers..."

Thus spake the bloke who, in 1998, delivered defensive driving training to a bunch of Facilities staff, of whom I was one. He was talking about road sense, but I think it's a benchmark you can apply in a whole range of environments.

So, then. London's Brewing. The successor to the directly-arranged and run London Brewers' Showcase event from 2010 and 2011. Not an LBA-organised event, strictly speaking. The LBA brand underpins this festival, but the London's Brewing thing is London Fields, not the LBA. Important to note this for what comes later.

It was clear that the upstairs at Vinopolis couldn't have coped with 40 brewers, so faced with choices which, I am told, were either no fest or this one, the LBA sanctioned London Fields to organise something at their event space. PR and branding were sorted, speakers arranged, beer ordered, tickets sold. I was one of the bloggers asked by the PR lot to preview and cover the event. A couple of tickets offered as recompense. Discounts promoted and a few days before the fest Trade Day, it was a sell-out. All good.

Then we get to the trade day. A harbinger of the catastrophe to follow. Opening delayed by an hour. I go to The Cock Tavern and wait until after 2pm. Hardly any beer available until the second bar was finished, cellar services lads complaining they'd done a week's work in two days to set up Bar Two, the larger of the spaces. Bar One runs out before 3pm, so it's 20-odd beers available for around an hour before they close at 4pm. It's clear there's a lot to sort out before the big public launch on Saturday...

The weather is rubbish as I get to London Fields after midday. It's not looking good. You can read twitter (#londonsbrewing for a sample) and CAMRGB or Matt Curtis for more contemporaneous accounts and different experiences, but the doors didn't open until 1245, and the queue had hardly moved 30 minutes later. People who had been on line before midday were leaving, complaining that (again) only the smaller bar was open. Bar Two didn't open until 2.15, but by then I was one of the disgruntled camped in The Cock Tavern. Rich Burhouse from Magic Rock was there, his day wasted by accepting an invite to judge beer that the organisers couldn't identify. Brewers from London, muttering about the piss-poor organisation, ticket-holders who'd queued long enough to get money back, alarmed by the reports from inside.

I was due to go and cover that session, but there was no point. The steady stream of disaffected drinkers and brewery people told me everything I needed to know. And a bit of gentle scratching at the surface revealed a lot of disquiet, something that I'd picked up on earlier in the week.

So, to the aftermath. Fingers will get pointed. I've seen the fest described as the London Brewers Alliance fest. Not to split hairs, but they don't 'own' London's Brewing. That's a separate delivery vehicle for this fest, which I believe is owned by London Fields. However, this is not to excuse the LBA from some culpability. They don't have a process for oversight and assurance which would have tested the model for this fest. So a learning point must be to acquire or develop a planning or project model that does cover this, as well as issues like risk appetite.

Despite this, LBA can't have had any clue about what was in store on Friday lunchtime, but London Fields could have, and they should have been flagging it, seems to me. Their twitter feed refers to 'left-field issues' or 'outside issues', but is anybody clear what they are? Although they hold events at their 'space', I'm not clear if they've ever run a beer festival in there, and that's what I'd have wanted to know if I was the LBA. Reports highlight the poor door management (tickets not scanned, so who was controlling numbers?); lack of readiness of bars (what happened to the rest of the 20 beers put on sale late on Bar Two on Friday?); mislabelling of beers - unforgiveable; overcrowding - there must be a safe limit on numbers, was it observed by controlling ticket numbers for each session?

And then, the fact that the space simply wasn't big enough. Seems to be that LBA need to speak to an events organiser to see what kind of workable model can be developed. Others have observed that this could significantly up ticket prices, but it's clear that, when punters could find it on the bar and correctly labelled, the beer was the least of the problems. If I was the LBA, I'd be asking London CAMRA for advice. Like 'em or loathe 'em, they know beer festival planning and delivery back to front.

If you rotate the logo, it looks like drinkers are being flipped the bird
Who are the planners, plodders and plonkers here? I can't say there was very much planning evident, certainly none that could be defended with credibility. The plodders and plonkers? London Fields certainly don't come out of this well. A case of reach exceeding grasp? LBA need to protect their brand. We need a body which speaks for London brewing, but maybe they also need to look at themselves and work out whether, with so many members now, their own structure is robust enough. This weekend will likely leave a reputational stain on the LBA, and, I assume, a hole in London's Brewing's pocket. I could be generous and say that everybody will learn from this, but in the meantime London will get a reputation for not being able to, erm... organise a piss-up in a brewery. Must do better.


Anonymous said...

Nail, head, hit!

One thing that would gone a long way towards damage limitation would have been some communication during Saturday's opening problems. A simple "sorry guys, we've had xxx and yyy problems give us 45 mins" would have made a big difference. Instead the front of the queue got a "20minute delay" call from one of the security people. When they finally opened the gates, people without tickets were pushed to a second queue that went straight in. Yea, guys great idea. Take a couple of hundred people that have been standing in the rain for up to an hour with no communication, having already paid for the privilege, then let the walk ups jump the queue???? If there had been a shop nearby stocking flaming torches, pitchforks, tar, and feathers..........

Anonymous said...

I am sure Camra HQ must be laughing their socks off. I have experienced anything so badly organised before. A real shame as this was our chance to show off, London brewed beers.

Benjamin Nunn said...

The thing is, there are literally hundreds, possibly thousands of people in London with a wealth of experience organising and running successful beer festivals.

There are loads of folk who could've helped, consulted and advised and who would've done all this for no more payment than a few beers at the end of it.

But this determination for the 'new generation' to go it alone and set itself apart from CAMRA and the traditions that have gone before seems to proclude such cooperation.

There were organisational shortcomings at Craft Beer Rising too.

Time for some pride to be swallowed, perhaps? Use the expertise and experience that is on your doorstep!

Sid Boggle said...

Not so sure it's a deliberate snub at CAMRA, Benjamin. After all, LBA admin and coord geezer Steve Williams is an old CAMRA hand. Seems to me nobody was weighing up all the risks, though, and CAMRA branches are well-practiced, so me (not a member)? That's where I'd start.

Or, you could throw into the mix what one source said to me, which was the LBA were "conned by bullshit".

Tyson said...

Thanks for the insight. It was clearly a disaster and hopefully lessons will be learned. Running a beer festival isn't easy-doubly so if you haven't done it before, and this seems to have failed at the basic planning level.