Meet the Haymaker – Ailsa Dunn

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 Ailsa Dunn, Volunteer Secretary of Hay, Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees. The Sanctuary is a volunteer-run local response to the refugee crisis in the Hay-on-Wye area.

Name: Ailsa Dunn

Occupation: Retired but Volunteer secretary of Hay, Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees. For about 10 years my husband and I have helped to coordinate the charity collections at Hay Festival and we were involved with Hay Festival charity collections with Ron and Sally of Hay Humanitarian Aid since 2005

Hay Festival role: Charity collections volunteer

What does Hay Festival mean to you?

That the world will come to Hay bringing interest, a diverse range of talks, great food and lots to think about. It also means holding buckets and counting money that has been generously given to help so many different charities.

What’s your favourite Festival memory?

So many great memories, but if I have to choose one then it’s the amazing concern shown by Festival supporters when volunteer steward Otis Bolamu was taken into detention by the Home Office and threatened with deportation. Thanks to this support, he was freed within 3 weeks and subsequently was given leave to remain in the UK. He still lives in Swansea and now takes time from his work at Amazon to talk to schools about seeking sanctuary and the importance of hope and  the support of good people. 

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

I’d thought Stephen Fry couldn’t possibly talk without any preparation about anything and everything and make it interesting and funny. Turns out when asked about 26 things chosen randomly over an hour - he can!

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

For me, the most inspiring speaker was Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish speaking about his autobiography I Shall Not Hate. He talked about his work as a doctor across the Palestinian / Israeli divide, and the loss of his three daughters in an Israeli shelling in 2009. Despite this tragedy, he was advocating for peace. There was barely a dry eye in the audience during his talk and the collection afterwards for Medical Aid for Palestine reached a record high.

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

Come prepared to be bombarded with new ideas, even talks you think might not be interesting are usually fascinating. Don’t overbook and keep an eye on the returns desk in the box office. Visit town and absorb the atmosphere. Bring wellies…. and loads of change for our collection buckets (please)!

Sum up Hay Festival in five words or less

Food for the soul.

To read more from our Meet the Haymaker series, sign up for our newsletter. Find out more about the Hay, Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees here.