Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Make Hay while the sun shines...!

               Image: chainat /               


We’re extremely happy to welcome another guest blogger for today’s post! Andrew Campbell, Head of Leisure, Events, Tourism & Sport at Swansea Met has kindly agreed to share some thoughts on the upcoming Hay Festival with us. Andrew is a regular festival goer and now volunteer steward at Hay which provides him with a valuable insight into event management that can be passed on to his students. With over 20 years’ experience and a background in research and consultancy for tourism and events, plus a keen interest in the great outdoors (!) Andrew is perfectly placed to share his views on this prestigious literary event. So sit back and enjoy…oh, and make sure you check back in a couple of weeks’ time when Andrew will be back to report on some of this year’s Hay highlights.

As the month of May draws towards its close, final preparations are being made for the opening of the world’s most successful literature festival. From 23rd May to 2nd June, the Hay Festival will play host to 200,000 visitors, who will come in search of intellectual adventure, inspiration and fun. Approximately 500 talks will be given by writers drawn from the world of popular fiction, poetry, politics, the environment, philosophy, history, theology, sport and entertainment.

Audiences will sit in rapt attention within tented pavilions, listening to stories, ideas, concepts and experiences. All will challenge, invigorate and provoke discussion. All will take people out of themselves – and to quote Festival Director, Peter Florence, “to think about the world and to imagine how it might be”. As a regular visitor to Hay (and now an erstwhile steward!), I liken it to a gym for the mind, which never fails to sharpen my intellectual curiosity. The ready accessibility of authors adds to the fascination of attending, where a quiet word can be exchanged over book signings or simply along the wooden boardwalks which crisscross the festival site. Social connection is another additional benefit. The coming together of so many like-minded people creates an invariably relaxed atmosphere. Conversations held with complete strangers are the norm. Reactions to presentations need to be shared; opinions need to be aired; thoughts need to be clarified. It is all quite understandable. In essence it is the friendliest of places! No small wonder to learn from Festival sources that over 30 marriages have ensued from this forum of interaction! A union of souls in more sense than one!

Add to all these benefits the delightful setting of Hay; a small market town (population 1900) situated within the rolling Welsh countryside on the Powys/Herefordshire border – and it is not difficult to see why this event has become so popular. This year will be the 26th anniversary of Hay. Since it began in 1988, an international dimension has evolved. There are now a further 11 festivals operating across five continents……which reflects the strength of the brand. This year (June), Kells in Ireland will become the latest addition to the list.

Popularity and success though can lead to disparagement – and the Festival does have its detractors. In much the same way that Glastonbury  has attracted criticism for becoming a middle class, middle aged gathering, with a “popular” product offering, so has Hay. To the literary purist it has become too mainstream with an accent upon “celebrity” and entertainment. Evening performers for instance this year will include K.T.Tunstell, Noah and the Whale, Christy Moore, Dara O’Briain, Jo Brand and Alan Davies. Headline sponsorship by the Daily Telegraph has also raised eyebrows. With visitor numbers increasing year on year, fears also abound that Hay may fall victim to its own success, as small intimate, informal atmospheres may be lost.

That said, Hay has not only survived through a recession, but has successfully managed to meet the changing needs of festival goers. An important point. Better facilities and services are now required as consumers are not what they were in 1988. Basic amenities are not enough. The need for corporate engagement and sponsorship is therefore a prerequisite for staying in the game. Recent financial pressures have taken their toll upon the events sector, as the neighbouring Brecon Jazz festival can testify. Hay has stayed true to its core values and continues to trade as a charitable, not for profit organisation. The promotion of free speech, human rights, sustainable living, equality and inclusiveness remain key. Ticket prices are low and represent excellent value – “bargain” may be a better description! Festival themes are diverse and offer appeal to a wide range of interest groups. To the detractors then, it hasn’t been so much a case of selling out to commercialism, but more a case of embracing common sense.

Enough of the background. For further information check out Programme highlights are too numerous to mention……a friend of mine has just booked to see: Mary Beard, Eric Schmidt, Nicholas Stern, Hans Blix, Carl Bernstein, Michael Vaughan, Edna O’Brien and Sebastian Faulks. Eclectic choice or what? But that’s the beauty of Hay – something to suit everyone! With Miranda Hart making an appearance this year, one might even will be “such fun”!

 Andrew Campbell

1 comment:

  1. Sold! I will be there next year.