Woman behind the Hampstead Christmas Festival launches hunt for successor

Alexandra Lavery, organiser of Hampstead Christmas Festival. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Alexandra Lavery, organiser of Hampstead Christmas Festival. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

In our latest feature about the Hampstead NW3 Business Association, we speak to the chief planner of the Hampstead Christmas Festival about her hunt for a successor

Big name performers and celebrity guests switching on the lights have become the norm for the Hampstead Christmas Festival – but it was not always thus.

A few short years ago the festival, which this year attracted 40,000-plus festive fun-seekers, was a rather more low-key affair.

There were no world famous acts like this year’s headliners Björn Again, nor any stage for that matter – it was more a case of a modest gathering watching the lights go on and then being on their way.

That was until chief organiser Alexandra Lavery took the reins and transformed the event into what has become a major highlight on the village’s calender.

“I had a picture in my mind about how I wanted it to look,” said Mrs Lavery.

“I wanted it to be something that was like an enormous children’s party that all ages would enjoy. I think we have achieved that.”

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After four years as chairman of the festival’s committee, part of the NW3 Business Association, she has decided to stand down.

The grandmother-of-seven, whose solicitor husband Andrew Lavery is the chairman of the business association, is on the hunt for a successor – someone to put their own stamp on the festival.

Asked why she is stepping back, she said: “It’s a very time consuming job!

“I have done it for the last four years and it takes up a whole year and it’s pretty flat-out from September through to the event.

“I want to get on with other things in my life – and I think it’s time someone else had a go.”

The other things include her duties as a magistrate at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, her grandchildren, a burgeoning interest in bridge and finding time “just to relax a lot more”.

She is seeking someone with the desire to give back to the community – and the time and inclination to devote themselves to seeing it through.

It’s a role that will involve juggling hundreds of contacts from council officers to stallholders to providers of attractions like the Santa’s grotto, reindeer and fairground rides.

“I have gained a huge amount out of it,” said Mrs Lavery. “I have met some amazing people, all sorts of people I would not have got to meet, people in and around Hampstead and also the people who supply us with things for events.

“Every one of them says Hampstead is their favourite festival because it’s put together by volunteers, and that’s one of the things I’m most proud of.”

She is the first to point out that it is by no means a one-woman show. Whoever takes over will enjoy the backing of a committed team of fellow volunteers.

“I have a fabulous committee. I work with people who say when they will do something and they do it. That’s quite a rare breed of person.”

In a transitional year, her second-in-command Susan Grant will take the lead in 2014. The festival’s committee is looking for someone to be Mrs Grant’s junior partner before taking over themselves in 2015.

Mrs Lavery added: “We need somebody who either lives or has worked in Hampstead and has a great love of Hampstead.

“This is very much an event where everybody does it because they love Hampstead.

“I wanted to give back to the community because that’s a very important thing in life.

“But it needs to be somebody who does not have a full-time job, because it really is a massive undertaking. They also need to have quite a relaxed and easy-going personality.”

Mrs Lavery is keen to continue taking part in a less central capacity.

To whoever is brave enough to take the helm, she has this advice: “Be strong, be tough, but also extremely flexible.”

Contact alexandralavery@ yahoo.com if you are interested.

n To find out more about the Hampstead NW3 Business Association, email info@nw3hampstead.com, visit www.nw3hampstead.com, or follow @NW_3Hampstead on Twitter.