WHAT DROMORE MEANS TO ME

WITH the sun staging an October appearance after a summer of too many cancelled shows, the backdrop for Thursday's launch of the latest project to lift Dromore might have struck some as 'picture' perfect.

Cameras clicked, and indeed rolled, as the tables were turned on a local lensman whose idea for a photographic expression of what Dromore meant to him, developed simultaneously into a celebration of its people and a coat of many colourful characters to hang over the worst of the town's blemishes.

It will no doubt come as some small comfort to those many who have perhaps fidgeted nervously before Drew McWilliams' camera, to hear his admission that it wasn't easy to discover himself on the other side of the viewfinder.

Local Press were joined by the BBC's South Down district journalist, Francis Gorman, for the launch of 'What Dromore Means To Me', a project Drew described as a fusion of his own idea and a scheme driven by Banbridge District Council Town Manager, Mechelle Brown and Dromore Chamber of Commerce.

The first results are now on open exhibition in Church Street, Bridge Street and Market Square, 12 outsize photographs in all, making for a town centre art project believed to be unique in its focus on "ordinary people".

There are a number of landscapes, including shots of the viaduct, Holm Terrace and the River Lagan as it flows toward Dromore, but the soul of the project is in the local people whose pictures and thoughts on Dromore were turning the heads of passersby even as the BBC's Mr. Gorman was still conducting his launch-day interviews for a feature he hopes will air some time this week.

He explained how his interest was piqued when he read an article about the planned project in The Leader earlier this year.

"I am forever on the lookout for stories and I came across this in The Leader in springtime, he said. “I have seen dereliction in the likes of Portaferry and Rathfriland, but I was struck by how bad, relatively, it was in Dromore.”

While on the face of it a local feature on an interesting project, he said, his piece played into the wider issue of urban dereliction and the “death” of town centres.

The project itself, however, is about life, specifically, life in Dromore.

Pictured, triumphant, in Market Square, young rugby player Chris Taylor is quoted, “Dromore has given me the opportunity to fulfil my dreams and ambitions.”

Across the street, Chloe Greenaway tells us, “Teachers in Dromore schools are great fun and encourage me to succeed,” while local couple, John and Jean Gamble, note, “We went to school, married, and raised a family in Dromore - a lifetime of memories.” Standing nearby on Thursday, this time carefully out of camera range, was well-known local man Peter Finnegan, whose image informs all who pass through Church Street, “No matter where I’ve travelled, Dromore in still my home.”

Said Drew, “It is my privilege to live and photograph in Dromore, and as a photographer I asked myself, how to I represent my town and what it means to me?

“I finally realised that what defines Dromore is the people; that was like a light going on.”

Thanking his subjects - his friends, he said - for so willingly taking part, Drew added, “I wanted to make sure they were ordinary people.”

Drew had been planning his own project when the district council’s Town Manager, Mechelle Brown, approached him about landscape pictures for a scheme in conjunction with the local Chamber of Commerce to promote community spirit and brighten the more unsightly parts of the town centre.

The two merged, the portraits, Drew believes, lending a more dynamic feel to the combined project.

Drew, who thanked the district council and the Dromore Chamber of Commerce for their input and help in shaping the project, said he was currently working on phase two of the scheme.

With another 12 photogpraphs in the offing, as Mechelle Brown told those gathered at Thyme Square for the first part of Thursday’s launch - “Watch this space.”