ALLISON McKay once worked with celebrities such as Geri Halliwell, Brenda Blethyn and Jamie Oliver.

Today, she’s leading efforts to enrich the lives of people through music and the arts.

Her role is more grassroots than glitz and glamour.

However, the boss of Humantics CIC, the social enterprise running Darlington’s Forum Music Centre, wouldn’t have it any other way.

In her early years, Ms McKay worked in a chain of salons in London and was promoted to the role of artistic director before she was 30.

She worked around the world on major advertising campaigns across TV and the wider media.

It was a time she’ll never forget.

“I did some work for the Vivienne Westwood collection and was subsequently approached by a couple of agents to do freelance session work,” she said.

“From that I got more in demand and one week I was in Miami and the next I was in Iceland, for example.

“The travel aspect was amazing.”

However, things changed when Forum founder Dave Cox approached Ms McKay to get on board with the Forum.

The venue hasn’t been without incident.

Indeed, it faced an uncertain future over funding before support was secured to ensure Humantics could take over in early 2011.

Ms McKay says the picture is now much more positive, highlighting the Forum’s successes in what can be a difficult market.

A quick look at its varied programme provides evidence on that front.

Although it is a diverse operation, with music at its heart, the base dips into all areas of culture.

From an R'n'B Club to comedy nights, film clubs, live music acts and tribute bands, the Forum is a hive of activity.

Ms McKay reveals she is keen to strengthen that offering further by working with young people, including promoters to help their careers, to ensure the Forum continues to welcome a healthy amount of new talent that people want to listen to.

“I was approached by David, who asked if I would come on board as a director for a new company he was looking to set up to enable the Forum to operate as a CIC,” said Ms McKay.

“We started developing the business plan to change the structure of the Forum and it took us until 2011 to get that pushed through.

“Just after that David moved on, and it was quite a change of direction for me, going from what I had done to running a music venue.

“We were in fire-fighting mode for years; it should have had more money to invest.

“We are not here to make profits. However, it is profits that pay to fix leaking roofs and broken boilers.

“Music venues are closing down all over the country, but we are doing a lot better than them.”

Ms McKay’s efforts led to her being named as one of the country’s top 100 women in social enterprise by the Wise 100 initiative.

She admits to being flattered by the accolade, but is quick to throw the spotlight onto the Forum’s staff, who she says work tirelessly to ensure operations run smoothly.

“It is all good for the confidence, but the staff are so good at multi-tasking and there is a really strong team here,” added Ms McKay.

“They all give 100 per cent and when I look at the Facebook page I always see really positive comments about how helpful the staff have been and how good the sound engineers were.

“They get a lot of praise and rightly so.”

Five minutes with… Allison McKay

Favourite North-East building and why? I particularly like the Sage Gateshead. It shines across the Tyne and I love how the light and acoustics change throughout the building. It is a building designed and developed for music and I think we are lucky we have it in the North-East.

What was your first job and how much did you get paid? I was a trainee hairdresser and I think my third-year salary was around £28 pw.

What is the worst job you've had? To be honest, I haven’t had one. I have met some great and some not so great people and learnt and experienced something new from every job.

What would you cook for me if I came around for dinner? Bobotie, a South African dish.

What would your superpower be? Atmokinesis, the ability to control the weather so I could make every day the perfect day.

Name four people, dead or alive, who would be at your perfect dinner party: Jools Holland, Gary Barlow, Ed Sheeran and Adele.

Most expensive thing you've bought - other than car or house - and how much? When I was young, I had a dinner date with a very flash, good looking guy and spent two weeks’ wages on a £100 dress to impress him. He turned out not to be so nice, and I went off the dress as well. What a waste!

Who is the best person to follow on Twitter and why? I don’t use Twitter personally, but I would obviously have to say our business Twitter account @TheForum_Music.

Favourite book? Fingerprints of the Gods, by Graham Hancock. I read this when I was in my mid-20s and it challenged my understanding of how the Pyramids were built. Thought provoking and interesting.

When did you last cry? My last proper cry was at my friend’s funeral in August. However, I have shed many tears watching films and TV adverts, and certain songs get me watery-eyed.

What is your greatest achievement? Becoming managing director, then artistic director for a chain of central London salons before I reached 30.

What's the best piece of advice in business you've ever been given? A passionate belief in your business and personal objectives can make all the difference between success and failure. If you aren’t proud of what you are doing, why should anyone else be?

Favourite animal and why? Dogs. They make going for a walk fun and they are very interactive.

Most famous person on your mobile phone? Jonathan and Jane Ross. However, the number has probably changed because this was from when I worked with them years ago.

What was the last band you saw live? Deeper Season, at the Forum Music Centre.

Describe your perfect night in: Cooking for friends and family.

In another life I would be... Me, so I could do things better.

Who would play you in a film of your life? Kim Basinger. She is older than me but still looks great and is a good actress.

What irritates you? Pushy sales people and cold callers, especially insurance scammers.

What's your secret talent? I’m not sure it’s a talent, but I enjoy painting (not decorating) when I have time to be creative.