It started off so simply.
A little beer festival. To raise money for a small Community Centre in the heart of Salford. A place with a multiplicity of pulls on the strings of my heart.
I didn't know what I'd gotten myself into, didn't realise that - in the nicest of ways - it would change my life. But it has. Oh how it has.
I've met people from all over these islands, formed friendships I could never have imagined - as have many of the people who have helped us through the last 4 years. They freely acknowledge the fact that these friends met in a little draughty Community Centre. Over a beer. A very good beer.
As hard work as this has been sometimes, this little friendly celebration of beer has given me SO much more in return. Things that I could never talk about in person.
But this isn't about me.
From relatively humble beginnings, this celebration of beer has changed. And - to me - it IS a celebration. In each year, we learned. Incrementally.
In year one and two, this was an event solely focused on Northern Beer.
Northern cask conditioned beer.
It's my Mastermind "Specialised Subject". I still fervently believe that the North of England - generally speaking - does this better than anywhere else.
And I've always tried to get the best beer I could.
Year 3 required a step change. #EvilKegFilth. And we haven't looked back.
Years 1 to 3 (especially year 3 - cathartic though it was) were a blur. I didn't enjoy those myself. The stress overrode everything else.
Year 4, last year, was different. I could finally appreciate what we had built. We had a simply astonishing beer line up from across the country. We had live music which had people reaching for their phones to video.
The package was - for me - complete. Food, music, people, beer. I didn't think we could improve on that at St Sebastian’s.
We CAN'T improve on that at St Sebastian’s.
With the exception of Year 3, when I did it for me (for reasons explained here) this Celebration was always run for Gerry Stone. Simply the loveliest most caring friend anyone could have.
Until last Friday, Gerry ran the Community Centre. Over the last 4 years, we raised almost £30k at this event. The vast majority of which went towards the upkeep of the Center, enabling it to provide a venue and vital services to the local community.
But - for reasons I won't go into - Gerry has left the Centre.
And - as I always said - if she wasn't there, I wouldn't do ISBF.
Obviously I was trying to fool myself.
So. "Where are you going with this?" is the question. Well.....
I couldn't let it go, not without a fight. I just couldn't. I need my annual adrenaline fix.
Gerry is - putting it mildly - fantastically well connected in the City of Salford, and knew my thoughts. She put me in contact with the Mayor's office. Many of you won't know, but the Mayor (Paul Dannatt) came to #ISBF4 and seemed to enjoy himself. He "got" what we were doing.
Following initial contact, where I gave my thoughts as to the basic requirements, (location - central, capacity etc) things moved quickly. I received an email a few days later from one of those venues and - following a brief exchange of messages - we arranged to meet Stan (no, assuredly not THAT Stanley!) at the venue.
I don't mind saying that my jaw dropped.
We chatted. Talked about what we'd done so far. The fact that we - myself & Gerry - would like to keep going. Keep it in Salford.
Stan, the Chairman of the building, seemed keen - again, things were racing ahead - and we agreed on virtually everything. Then started talking dates.......
I'd set myself a deadline - stupidly restrictive - of until the end of April. If we couldn't find somewhere in that time, there'd be no #ISBF5.
It took about an hour.
The new venue is Hemsley House, Salford's Freemason Hall.
I always bristled when people said that St Sebastian’s was a bit awkward to get to.
Well, this venue is approximately 4 minutes on foot from Salford Crescent train station. It's on a major bus route.
In short, it's bloody easy to get to. So, over to Mr Heggs and HIS "specialist subject"...... Stunning design.
The date had to move to get the building. And once we'd seen it, we didn't want to lose it.
In your diaries yet?
There are lots of wrinkles that need ironing. This could still fall around our ears. There'll be lots of changes. But some things won't.
I'll do my damnedest to get you the best, most exceptional beer list. From near and far. If you came last year, you know that won't be easy.
We'll do our utmost to keep that friendly feeling, relaxed, comfortable, easy. After all, this is about enjoyment. Not fireworks.
ALL profits will go to charity.
We're going to try and give it a go. Who's in?