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Saturday 7 December 2019

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Avril Stanley, Festival Organiser

Avril Stanley is the organiser of the Body & Soul festival. She lives in Dublin with her six year old son.

"The very first thing I do when I get up at 7am – and I'm very happy I've gotten into this practice – is just to sit for ten minutes and do a little bit of stretching and have a glass of water before the day starts. Giving yourself that time before everything gets going is so worth it. I then descend on my son's room to wake him and get him ready for school ... breakfast, lunch boxes, that side of my life. He's a little bit like me; it takes the second and third alarm ring to shake him awake. When he wakes he is very happy, but there have been moments where I've had to dress him in bed while he's dozing. I'm sure it's the same for a lot of mothers.

I've learned the hard way about the work-life balance. Once upon a time I'd be putting my son to bed and getting back to my desk until 2am. That's not sustainable though ... if it takes that much effort to do something that you love, perhaps you're going about it the wrong way. Nowadays, I'm better at compartmentalising.

If it's a nice day I'll cycle into the office in Dublin 8. If it rains I drive, but I don't beat myself up about it. The working environment is really lovely – a big office in an old stone building with the Fumbally Café right on our doorstep, which is great if you want to have a meeting in a much less structured environment.

It's safe to say that no two working days are the same, mainly because the festival has so many facets. We have music, spoken word, hot tubs, the holistic side and the family area. This year, we're throwing a banquet in for good measure. I get to pop in and out to those different worlds every day: I go from checking out a puppet show and contacting an act's agent, to sitting down with an arts collective. On top of all that, there are things like insurance forms to fill out. I think looking at spreadsheets day in and day out would kill anyone, but the variety keeps me doing what I do.

One of the steepest learning curves I've had is practising the art of delegation. I want things on the festival site to be as good as they possibly can be. We're a very small team so I take on what I can, and offer other stuff to someone in the area who does what they love and does it well.

For most of the year there are two of us in the office, then five, then 15 or more. We have a huge team of volunteers too. In the early days of Body & Soul, it was just me in my sitting room, with a laptop, mobile and one of my closest friends, Freddie (Kirk). I also decided to give birth to a festival when I had a tiny baby myself, and the recession had already hit Ireland (in 2009). I do remember thinking, 'now's the time to do something, more so than ever'. There was definitely a feeling of 'well, I have one baby, why not have two?' At the time it was pure naivety; looking back, it was one of the most insane moves of my life.

I don't get anxiety per se, but my background is psychotherapy, so I seem to excel in times of crisis. That doesn't mean I don't lie awake at night thinking things through and second guessing scenarios.

Some afternoons, I get out at 5pm; others, I am there until 9pm. I have to be, especially when we're in the eye of the storm. In the months right after the festival, I'm more flexible and can spend time with my son. I can feel that things might go out of balance, and I can feel it in myself and my son when I need to invest more time at home.

My favourite thing to do is cuddle with my son and read stories to him at the end of the day, and that time is safeguarded. I don't own a TV, but I've been given the Game Of Thrones box-set, which is fabulous. I'm totally into it. I'll light a fire, maybe have a glass of good red wine; so much the better if there are friends around and we have good music on. The other big thing to do is have a bath; it's a real chill-out moment, with oils and candles. It's a really calming ritual for me; like having your mum's arms around you. I live across the road from a yoga studio so I do that too and I'll have friends over."

The Body & Soul festival is on 20th-22nd June at Ballinlough Castle, Co. Westmeath. See www.bodyandsoul.ie for information

Irish Independent

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