Woking Beer Festival has been held at the Woking Leisure Centre every year since 1994 and 2020 would have been the 27th Festival. The restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic prevented even attempting to hold the Festival in 2020 and 2021. The intervening two years and a hard look at how the Festival was performing has led the Festival Organising Committee to conclude that in the longer term it is not viable to hold Woking Beer Festival at Woking Leisure Centre. This decision has not been made lightly, we have enjoyed an excellent working partnership with the Leisure Centre but times have moved on and our previously solid customer base has been steadily decreasing in recent years. From 2013 we have seen declining attendance despite initiatives to widen the appeal of the event, including: relaying the Wurlitzer Organ in to the Main Hall and introducing quality Gin and Wine offerings.
We have also seen a decline in the number of volunteers coming forward to offer their time to help organise and run the festival. This means that more work has to be done by fewer people and a significant amount of work is needed to restart a Festival and regain the previous momentum.
The time of year, November, which tends to have poor weather, plus the distance from Woking Town Centre transport links are further inhibiting factors for customers and a reason for “no shows” on the day. While the Leisure Centre offers excellent facilities, it is out of town making it inconvenient for new customers to visit. New customers are an essential part of keeping a Beer Festival relevant and vibrant. The failure to attract new customers is very likely to be the reason for falling attendance.
We would have liked to carry on at the Leisure Centre, yes, we could probably have done another few years but we can not believe that attendance would improve.
A radical rethink is needed of how a future Woking Beer Festival can be organised. The current model of tickets in advance, beer selection maintained at all sessions and definitely not running short of beer sets a high performance standard and also financial risk when attendance is uncertain. Many CAMRA beer festivals are run on the basis of: no advance tickets (turn up on the day), when it’s gone it’s gone beer availability, town centre location for ease of access, no commemorative glass or program, beer lists provided and very importantly low entrance price. An excellent example of this approach is Kingston Beer Festival and the biggest problem for the next Woking Beer Festival is finding a suitable and affordable venue in Woking.
Those of you who have attended in the past, thank you for your support, if you didn’t attend perhaps you would like to help organise the next Woking Beer Festival!