Last week we were given an award. We were dead chuffed, Club Soda members celebrated on the Facebook, and then we sadly had to give it back – here is why.
Why is this so important to us? Well here is a video that explains what Nesta is. You can see why we think that their continuing and unashamed alcohol-bias at their events (especially health related ones) was unacceptable, and why we are not happy to be treated as second class guests at their events any more.
An Open Letter to
Geoff Mulgan, Co-founder of New Radicals
Yvonne Roberts, Co-founder of New Radicals
Dear Geoff and Yvonne,
You may not have noticed our absence from the New Radicals awards ceremony last week, but we wanted to explain to you why we decided not to accept our New Radicals 2018 Award. It was a hard decision for us. We, and our members, were very proud to have been nominated.
Club Soda is a member led movement. Our members include people who are cutting down their drinking, going alcohol-free, who don’t drink much, or who have never drunk. This is why our mission is to ‘create a world where nobody feels out of place if they are not drinking’. This is at the core of everything we do. It is the first line of the application that was made for the award, and one of the first things you acknowledge in the Club Soda profile on your website.
You will see that we go beyond just helping people to change their drinking habits. We are looking to make a systems change in how we all, as a society, treat each others choices and needs in a very alco-centric culture. We point this out since the short citation for the award takes away the most radical part of the work we do, and merely presents us as a simple service offering for people worried about their drinking. It may also explain why Nesta often sees what we do as something that applies to ‘other’ people, and not to people ‘like us’.
Last week we decided, after rapidly consulting with our members, to return the award. Why? Because, not for the first time, we felt that we and other attendees were made to feel out of place for not drinking alcohol at a Nesta event.
It is an issue we have raised with you every time we have come to a Nesta event over the last two years. At this particular event the drinks table was again laden with bottles of beer and wine that were served to guests by waiting staff, and then jugs of cheap fruit juice for ‘everyone else’ to pour for themselves (and which also ran out in a couple of minutes).
When we raised the matter with Nesta staff, we also found out that the toast was a tableful of fizz with no alternative for people who do not drink. A few big wine glasses were hurriedly added, and filled with the same orange juice. We were met with a volley of excuses that included “we did not have enough budget” and “the caterers did not have anything else” and “we can’t bring our own drinks in”.
We fully appreciate the ties that venues have with their catering contracts, but every caterer we have ever spoken to (and we speak to lots of them) has always said that they can provide anything their customers want, and we know their wholesale books have other options. At the 2016 People Powered Health Conference the caterers immediately rolled out a whole load of different options when we complained. On that occasion we raised our concerns at the event and in writing afterwards and we were told that you would take on board our feedback and do better next time.
But it seems that nothing has changed. We have raised the same issue at every Nesta event.. We always add it as a requirement to our RSVP for events and it is ignored. Prior to this year’s People Powered Health event, at your request, we wrote a briefing for you (and I believe this event did provide more choice). We turned this into general advice for anyone running events for a diverse audience. You can read it on our website (at joinclubsoda.co.uk/hosting-a-diverse-drinks-event).
We feel you show a consistent alcohol bias at your drinks receptions that excludes large numbers of attendees. Some of the reasons why you may want to consider adding more alcohol-free drinks to your receptions are:
- You invite speakers for whom alcohol and substance abuse has been an issue, and then choose to treat them as second class guests.
- We know several organisations run by muslims who tell us they don’t stay for your drinks receptions.
- Your regular icebreaker of ‘who travelled the furthest to get here’ demonstrates that there will be people likely to be driving home after the event.
- You do not give those who may want to drink less any choice or permission to make a healthier decision.
- You make anyone not drinking, for whatever reason, feel that their behaviour is somehow unusual.
- It reinforces the assumption that it is solely up to the individual to change their drinking behaviour, and that our institutions, be it the pub or the workplace, have no role in supporting people to make better choices for themselves.
We spoke to several other people at the workshop and before the award ceremony last week who were not happy either: those not drinking for religious reasons, a pregnant woman, someone in recovery from alcohol dependence, someone who would have just preferred an alcohol free option but reluctantly had a glass of wine.
We think this issue also conflicts hugely with the other Nesta community which we are really proud to be part of. The Good Help community is all about promoting and supporting self-efficacy. If we accepted this award we would not be the active role models that your own report identifies as being important in this space. Our members would not learn that it is possible to speak up for themselves, and to ask to be treated equally. When confronted with this situation on Thursday we asked our members what we should do through our online community. They all suggested we return the award.
We agree, if we cannot even make a dent in influencing a body that we work with often, and have already spoken to on numerous occasions about their lack of catering for diversity, then we clearly have failed to get our message across. In short, the New Radicals Award is not an award we feel we deserve yet.
All our members want is simply to be treated with the same consideration as their drinking friends and colleagues. By buying fewer bottles of wine you could put together a decent choice of alcohol free drinks. And in our experience when you do that, up to half of the attendees will switch to them because you have given them a real choice. Just as an example, the Beer and Cider Marketing Awards which we attended later that same evening (where our Mindful Drinking Festivals received a highly commended award) had a range of choices for people not drinking alcohol.
You wouldn’t do the same with dietary requirements. You wouldn’t dream of doing the same with disability access. As long as you keep making some of your guests feel unwelcome at your events, or even prevent them from attending at all, we feel we have failed in our mission, and we won’t take part in Nesta events any more, until we know that they are catered for everyone.
So, on behalf of our 23,000 members we have reluctantly decided not to accept the New Radicals award this time. If we can make more progress, we hope to be considered again in two years time.
Laura Willoughby MBE
Club Soda co-founders