Gillian Eilidh O’Mara

By 13 April 2021February 1st, 2023No Comments

I am an artist and illustrator based in Bishop Auckland. My first encounter with Front Lounge was before it even existed. Project Leader Chika Inatimi visited my school as a youth worker, and came armed with some big questions – Who are you? What do you want to do? What are you hopes and dreams? What made me stay in touch was that Chika took the lead from what young people wanted to do, rather than prescribe activities. I’ve hardly come across any other organisations who work that way.

The themes of responsibility and freedom run through my recollection of my experiences with Front Lounge.

I was instrumental in setting up The Workshop in 2004 – the organisation’s current activity base – and creating several amazing arts projects in the early 2000s. It really felt like we were in charge! Having a base made it feel like I was part of a community and really made a difference. It is something that I valued so much that I have opened a wee shop in Bishop Auckland that is doing exactly the same thing!

I remember doing projects with peers and people started falling out but somehow, we fostered a sense of openness – we achieved living in community, and it has driven me to seek similar dynamics.

Which is why I live in community with others. A culture where everyone could say anything, which is the key to resolving conflicts.

Working with the guidance and legitimacy of Front Lounge provided opportunities to seek out funding, venue hire, and networks that would not have been available to an 18-year old working alone. I was afforded an “adult level of respect”.

One of the most memorable projects was KenART. The project was all about connecting your personal identity to your surroundings. It used a questioning framework that has existed (in some form or another) for the lifetime of Front Lounge: Who am I? Where am I from? Where am I going? What are my hopes and dreams? And it’s a framework that is still helping me remove obstacles in my life and focus on doing my best in whatever situation I finds myself in.

Front Lounge helped me to challenge my fundamental assumptions about life. Nothing was predefined. I always had the impression of possibilities. It felt open ended, life is literally very big, and there is a lot you can do. I picked up a sense of personal agency, being inspired by peers, being respected, being trusted. There must be a way to figure out how to do it, so you can figure it out. If you can’t figure it out yourself, there’s a group of people at Front Lounge who can help you do that. Surround yourself with other people who know you as well as you know yourself. I love the opportunity where multiple people can benefit. And I know what to do to make that happen.

The best thing I can give them is knowledge. Give them freedom to use that knowledge and pass on confidence to use that knowledge.

I learnt that from The Ultimate Chill. Freedom comes from education in the broadest sense. Knowing how things work seems more important to me now, looking at some of the challenges my children are facing, deep recession, climate change, I sense imminent instability and social unrest in their lifespan.