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Mr George and me

I was asked the other day, who was my biggest influence in business. Resisting the temptation to give my usual answer – my grandmother, who was a self-employed florist before she retired in her late 60s – I decided to have a good think about it.

So let me tell you about a true gentleman, one of the last of his kind, known with affection to his staff as “Mr George”. He was a director of a family-owned brewery, plodding away in the wilds of the country, brewing beautiful beer and serving a tied estate of charming pubs and a burgeoning free trade. Until one day when the rest of the family sat him down and told him they’d had an offer and wanted to sell. He just needed to agree and sign the paper.

Oh no he wouldn’t! This was his life, he was the MD and the rest of the family really just sleeping partners. All they could foresee was what the economists told them; that there was no future for middling breweries who brewed real ale, it was a dying market, and they needed to get out now while there was still someone who would offer them decent money for their business. He, however, knew that this family jewel was worth fighting for. His daughter Jackie and son Stuart joined the fray, and they knew that the only way was to find the money to buy the other family members out.

This was an amount of money not to be sniffed at. The amount was never exactly revealed, but it was certainly over seven figures. And eventually they made it – and Batemans Brewery is still going, still brewing delicious beer, and with a growing estate of tied pubs.

So how did I come to know Mr George? Through my involvement with CAMRA of course. Mr George knew that the best marketing was word of mouth, and the best advertising was stuff you didn’t have to pay for – both of which were provided freely and willingly by us active members. I will never forget the brewery visits I made in the 80s and 90s. You see they turn their pubs in their home village of Wainfleet over to visitors for the night or weekend, and they started doing this by offering CAMRA branches the chance to visit the brewery and stay in the village. Mr George himself would make a point of personally addressing the visitors at some stage during the tour, if not having a meal with them then speaking to them while they were drinking.

During the time of the struggle, Mr George became very seriously ill with cancer of the throat, and despite disfiguring surgery insisted on carrying on to see the fight through to its conclusion.

At the CAMRA AGM following his victory, Mr George addressed us to a standing ovation. He told us that he had developed a new nickname: “Mr Ah-but” because at every turn, when he found something else in the way, his standard response became “Ah – but if we do this…” He also told us that he believed he’d been adopted by another family, which was over 100,000 strong, and he would never had done it were it not for the support and strength of the Campaign for Real Ale.

Before he died, he created a new visitors centre in the brewery’s iconic windmill, and I went along to the opening. Sadly the day before had seen the funeral of his wife, but Mr George was insistent that the opening would continue as normal, and I am so grateful that my circumstance was such that I was invited to this great day.

On several occasions over the last few weeks, I’ve been told that I have a particularly obstinate mindset, that I am going to succeed and whatever I want to do is going to bloody well happen. Now I know I’m not usually like that, so where did I get it from? Well it has to be the example of Mr George and his family: Pat his wife, Jackie and Stuart, and some bloody good beer. Batemans goes from strength to strength, and it is my intention that the Amethyst Centre does the same.