Oxford Beer Festival to go ahead after agreement reached on costs

CAMRA and Town Hall to work together to make it a success

Oxford CAMRA had decided to cancel its annual festival due to increased costs and falling attendance, but will now work with the Town Hall to ensure that a three-day event from Thursday November 9-Saturday November 11 will be a success.

The Oxford Beer and Cider Festival attracted up to 3,000 visitors in 2019 and in previous years, before the 2020 and 2021 events were cancelled due to Covid. When a two-day festival was reinstated for 2022, attendance slumped to under 2,000 as many older customers stayed away, with the declining number of people working in the city centre being another factor.

“We are very pleased that Oxford City Council has shown some flexibility, and thanks in particular to Councillor Ed Turner for calling interested parties together to work out a solution,” said Oxford CAMRA spokesman Dave Richardson.

“We had started looking at other possible venues including Brookes University and the King’s Centre in Osney Mead, but nowhere compares to the Town Hall for convenience and atmosphere, as people really appreciate its city centre location and Victorian splendour.

“The festival was first held at the Town Hall in 1998 and became one of the most successful public events in the city, providing a major economic boost to pubs, restaurants, cafes, shops and other businesses as people poured in every year from near and far. But then came Covid, and this year both the Town Hall and ourselves faced major increases in costs. We are very pleased to have found a way forward.”

Lonely Tony….. Tony Goulding awaits the crowds who never came at last year’s festival

Saturday opening was abandoned in 2022 as attendance had been low on Saturdays for many years, and not enough to cover costs. The return to a three-day event this year will see some beers held back for Saturday, and the main auditorium may be reconfigured to provide more seating space.

The Town Hall will also promote the festival strongly, as Councillor Ed Turner, deputy leader and cabinet member for finance and asset management, explained.

“The Oxford Beer and Cider Festival is a terrific event and Oxford Town Hall is its home,” he said. “We want it back not just this year, but for the long term, and we hope to have found a way to make that possible.  Our superb town hall and communications teams will do all they can to promote the festival to maximise the attendance and promote enjoyment of real ale, cider and perry, including products from Oxford’s incredibly dynamic local brewing landscape.”

As originally reported last month, Oxford CAMRA had decided not to go ahead with this year’s festival as projected costs for hiring the Town Hall had increased from about £7,000 to £10,000 for the same two-day event as last year, with a day either side for setting up and taking down. Returning to a three-day event still involves a degree of risk, which could mean an increase in prices paid at the door and for beer and cider. Other economies could be made including cutting back on the beer order, as so much had to be poured away in 2022.

Although many beers sold out last year, a lot had to be poured away on take-down day

Last year the festival had 120 real ales and 30 ciders, with around 30 local breweries being invited and a Beer of the Festival chosen by a tasting panel – Little Ox’s Yabba Dabba Doo was the overall winner. The festival was staffed by over 80 volunteers, who are now urged to put the dates of Thursday November 9-Saturday November 11 in their diaries. Set-up day will be Wednesday November 8 and take-down day Sunday November 12, when many volunteers – including some with special skills – are needed.

Public demand for beer festivals is still strong, as at the Perch near Oxford over the weekend of April 29-30 which was close to selling out by Sunday afternoon with a wide choice of mainly local beers. Upcoming festivals include the Beer and Music Festival at the Nag’s Head, Abingdon on May 5-8, the Big Oxford Beer Bash in South Park on May 20, a festival at the White Hart in Headington on the same date, the Chadlington Beer Festival on June 3 and the Charlbury Beer Festival on June 24.