Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Festival Helps to Save Club from Sticky Wicket

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Festival Helps to Save Club from Sticky Wicket

Article excerpt

Byline: BEER ALASTAIR GILMOUR

THE domestic cricket season finished a few weeks ago, and wickets are taking an autumn breather. Terrace benches will lurk largely in silence until spring - but a ripple of applause might just break out around Newcastle Cricket Club's Jesmond pavilion next week at the start of its second annual beer festival.

More than 30 ales will feature - half as many again as in the first festival - with 10 ciders lined up as an alternative in an event regarded as something of a turning point for the club. Six years ago, the threat of extinction hung over the whole business - it was running at a loss and prospects weren't just bleak but decidedly black.

Developers craned their necks to assess what lay behind the tall fencing - and rubbed their hands.

It took a long and concerted effort - new committee, different structure, skilful organisation - to stem the haemorrhage of money, and the club was eventually saved. That was only the start, however, as it's an ongoing battle to secure new members, extend financial opportunities and buoy the community spirit that has been rediscovered.

And a beer festival is one way of not only making a little bit of money but an occasion to show visitors the facilities at the clubhouse and the prospects of the surroundings that many never knew existed.

Newcastle Cricket Club beer festival organiser Rob Creswick - previously a self-confessed "lager man" - admits that a beer festival wasn't entirely his idea, but quickly realised the inaugural event worked wonders to raise the organisation's profile.

"A group of students started coming into the club because there were very few places around here with real ale," he says. "Then we thought 'why not try a beer festival?'.

"We approached the local Campaign For Real Ale (Camra) branch for advice, and they ended up so enthused they asked if they could run it for us - and they're doing it again this year. The first time, we had about 20 beers on and this time there are 31, with 10 ciders.

"Camra warned that, for a first beer festival, you normally make a loss, but we made a respectable amount of money, not a lot, but enough to encourage us to do it again."

Beers are arriving from all over the country - BrewDog Trashy Blonde from Aberdeenshire, Thornbridge Kipling from Derbyshire and Champion Beer of Britain, the Nottingham-based Castle Rock Harvest Pale - as well as local favourites from High House Farm, Hadrian & Border, Big Lamp and Mordue. The five-day festival is expected to make a significant contribution to the club's coffers, as most of the organisation and staffing are on a voluntary basis. Rob Creswick even walked the 240-mile length of the Thames this summer - source to sea - to raise funds for a new clubhouse carpet.

Cricket club co-chairman and secretary (and Rob's wife) Olwyn Hocking says: "We realised that, after a long, hot day's walking, a nice pint of ale in a lovely pub was unbeatable. Heavenly. What a reward. We looked forward to our pint of Brakspear Oxford Gold so much every evening we've got it on at the festival.

"It was a massive shock when it was announced that the club was going to close, but it had been losing money year on year for a variety of reasons. However, it brought a lot of people out of the woodwork, from international sports people to local residents who'd known the club all their lives.

"So many international cricketers have played here, such as Dennis Lillee who wrote the most beautiful letter in support - actually, it was more of an essay - saying how much Jesmond meant to him. It was so eloquent.

"He described it as a postage-stamp size of a ground and that most cricket grounds are forgettable, but Jesmond should live forever. …

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