Darren grew up in Glengormley. He recalls a time when bomb scares were common.
“Me and my brother were fascinated when they brought out the robots to defuse these bombs. I have very clear memories of the police coming to our door and asking us to get to the back garden. One time we had to go through a hedge to the neighbour’s garden, just to get as far away as possible. It was always about the excitement, we didn’t really understand anything until we got older.”
Darren was involved with his local church, organising charity events. “Church was the beginning. I realised I enjoyed working with people, the youth part of it was very active, it was the outreach role rather than the Sunday service that interested me more.”
A turning point for Darren came when he went on a trip to Romania. He visited orphanages. “That was just horrific, no matter who you are, you want to do something about it.” Darren would return several times to Romania. On one visit he came across street children who lived in the sewers. He decided something should be done to help the children and set up a charity with friends.
His fundraising and charitable experiences in Romania led to a job with Concern Worldwide. “I learnt a lot about aid work, you had to know a fair bit about the 20+ countries they were working on at the time”
Darren had studied engineering and media. He had always loved music and was frustrated that he couldn’t do more as a musician. He was developing ideas for Beyond Skin, an organisation using music, art, multimedia and radio as a tool for cultural education & exchange. When he came across a project called One Giant Leap, a film which explored the links that music gives throughout the world, he invited the producers over to Belfast for a screening.
“Such good relationships were established and such good work was done that Beyond Skin started to evolve and we started getting involved in other things, that’s the way it’s always been, very organic and things just started to happen.”
As well as Beyond Skin Darren set up The Motion Project which was an initiative to record music with a wide range of culturally diverse musicians.
It was after organising a music festival in Newtownards, Homely Planet, that he discovered the dissatisfaction that musicians had with mainstream media, the difficulty of getting their music heard. “We looked into doing something Internet based, which wasn’t managed by Ofcom, didn’t need a commercial license, a bit freer, more of a podcast thing.” In 2008, a website was set up called Homely Planet that focused on world music. “It’s a really good platform for young people especially those who are very excited about multimedia. 80% of our work is with young people, there’s got to be some confidence building, some skills development, young people are living in a totally different world, and have to be given skills to deal with a more global and diverse climate.”
“It’s about creating an environment through the arts where people can learn, share a space.”
“I think the most rewarding thing, especially for me, is seeing young people who are told you’ll never achieve anything, you’ll never amount to anything, you’ll never do that, there’s no chance you’ll be on stage doing that, actually taking them to that place and prove their peers wrong.”
Reflecting on how far Northern Ireland has come, Darren says,
“You can be your own self. Diversity isn’t all about holding hands and all being huggy huggy, it’s not about that at all. Keep your independence, keep who you are, your character, your religion, your culture, keep that, but be respectful to others, share it with other people as well and if we can do that then we’re in a good place.”