Meet the Haymaker – Lena Smith

Our monthly 'Meet the Haymaker' series shares stories of the change-makers at the heart of Hay Festival and the impact it has had on their lives. Get to know Lena Smith, Pen to Print manager. Pen to Print is a library programme based in Barking & Dagenham who, in collaboration with Hay Festival, brings local schoolchildren and adult writers to the Festival for a three-day writing retreat.

Name: Lena Smith

Occupation: Pen to Print - Library NPO Project Manager, London Borough of Barking & Dagenham

What does Hay Festival mean to you?

Visiting Hay Festival with a group of young people and a group of adults from Barking & Dagenham was such an enjoyable experience. For some it was their first interaction with a book festival of any kind, and to see these participants get inspired by leading writers and artists, while soaking up the general Festival atmosphere, was awesome

What’s your favourite Festival memory?

Seeing the enthusiasm for books and reading ignited in the group of young people I brought to Hay. They literally lit up with enthusiasm.

Have you ever changed your mind on something having been to a Hay Festival event?

Our groups were made up of people from very diverse backgrounds. It was initially our concern that some may feel they didn't belong at Hay Festival. However the welcoming atmosphere stopped any members of our groups from feeling alienated or unwelcome. In their feedback, they said they felt that they did belong, and I hope the experience encouraged them to visit again - and recommend others to visit as well.

Who was the best speaker or performer you saw on a Hay Festival stage?

This is so hard as everything I have seen at Hay has been amazing, but I would have to say Letters Live. To see leading actors reading letters was entertaining, thought-provoking, and completely accessible.

What advice do you have for a first-timer at the Festival?

Try attending an event you would not normally have booked, and step out of your comfort zone. There are so many different talks available that you are spoilt for choice (a one-day visit is definitely not enough!). I made the point of including sessions in our programme that we wouldn’t normally have chosen. For example, we saw James Runcie discuss his new novel The Great Passion, interspersed with performances by violinist Irène Duval. It was so informative, moving and enjoyable. After being very sceptical of the choice at first, the group thought so too!

Sum up Hay Festival in five words or less… 

Inspiring, empowering, welcoming and fun!

To read more from our Meet the Haymaker series, sign up for our newsletter. Find out more about Pen to Print here.