Sally is a co-founder of Soft Touch Arts, a participatory arts co-operative based in Leicester, where she recently worked with young people from the Saffron Lane Estate on the Joe Orton project 'Off You Go Then'.

Soft Touch has a national reputation for innovative work with hard-to-reach young people and continues to provide a challenging and rewarding life.

See the 'Off You Go Then' project here

Visit the Soft Touch website here




For twenty years I’ve worked with young people on arts-based projects. For twenty years it’s been a challenging and rewarding process. But the highlight has got to be ‘Off You Go Then’, a DVD project made together with young people from the Saffron Lane Estate in Leicester about Joe Orton.

For eighteen months we were immersed in researching the life, work, highs and lows, ins and outs of Saffron Lane’s most famous son and interpreting it to tell the story how we wanted to tell it. With a limited budget we filmed where we could – around the Saff, in the cells in Leicester’s Guildhall, in Leicester’s Little Theatre, in the flat in Noel Road complete with builders and building work (group member – ‘That’s Joe Orton’s toilet, Joe Orton’s toilet!’), in drag outside St Pancras, in the Shaftesbury Hotel, outside the library in Islington, inside the library in Saffron Lane. We interviewed Leonie Orton Barnett, the good folk on the streets of Saffron Lane and Leicester City Centre: young man – ‘Do I know Joe Orton? If he’s the Joe I’m thinking of, I knew him about three months ago’: woman – ‘I know all about Joe Orton, I work in the theatre, he wrote Room at the Top’.

In the process we learnt a lot about Joe Orton and his work, researching, acting, filming, editing, life in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, gay life and homophobia and about ourselves too. Through the duration of the project my life went into freefall, my Dad died, my marriage spilt up, and at the end my sanity was distinctly precarious but, to counterbalance all of this, I’d led a project to be proud of, I’d gained a whole new set of sons and daughters without having to give birth to any of them and, most importantly, I’d developed a fine line in innuendo which I continue to hone.

I’ve only just started getting to know Joe Orton, I’m not ready to let him go off yet, long may my relationship with him continue.

Image © Sally Norman   Text © Sally Norman  

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