Let's drink to a bumper conference weekend...

HERE'S some news worth drinking to – Sheffield is set for a quarter of a million pound boom built on beer.

Camra – the Campaign For Real Ale – is to hold its annual national conference right here in the city this April.

And that means more than 1,000 beer lovers from across the UK descending for three days of talks, debates, meetings – and not a little sampling at the city's hostelries.

"Last year's event was held in the Isle Of Man, and the estimates are it pumped 250,000 into the economy there," says Dave Williams, spokesman for Camra's Sheffield branch and the man co-ordinating the three-day drink-and-discussion-a-thon.

"And the indications are this year is going to be the biggest in Camra's history. Certainly I would say it's the largest beer-based weekend to be held in Sheffield and we're looking at about 300,000 being spent here in the region."

The event – the first time it has been held in Sheffield since 1991 – will take place around a 'dry' conference centre at the Octagon and a fringe festival at University House.

The group's annual meeting and policy debates will take place in the former venue from Saturday morning until Sunday afternoon, while the nearby festival will serve Camra members local ales and ciders from Friday evening through to Sunday night.

Specially printed maps will guide visitors to dozens of real ale pubs in the city including the Kelham Island Tavern, in Russell Street, and the Rutland Arms, in Brown Street, while day trips to local breweries at Oakwell in Barnsley and Thornbridge in Derbyshire will be organised.

"It's been incredibly hard work organising it all," says Dave, pint in hand at the Rutland Arms. "But there's no doubt it will be a massive boon for Sheffield.

"We're talking about 1,000 people coming here for three days – booking hotel rooms, eating out and drinking at the city's pubs. There's a lot of Camra business done over the weekend but it's also a time for socialising and if there's one thing Camra members like to do, it's spend their money at local pubs."

He added in previous years local ales showcased at such conferences had gone on to sell well around the country, suggesting the economic benefits could be further-reaching than simply the weekend itself.

The conference, the 39th in Camra's history, had been due to be held in Norwich but problems with the city's venue meant it had been relocated. Next year it will be in Torquay.

"There's a lot of pressure on making sure everything runs smoothly," concludes Dave. "But I'm looking forward to it – there's so much to offer here that I think our visitors will have a great weekend and be really impressed."

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