Deaf Perspectives: Past and Present

A project working with d/Deaf children and young people, inspired by the life and photographs of Walton Burrell (1863-1944).

Our most recent collaboration with Suffolk Archives had a focus on the deaf community in Bury St Edmunds. A collection of archive photographs were the inspiration for young people to create music and photography exploring their own lives and locality, working together with a diverse range of professional artists.

This project was inspired by the life of Walton Burrell (1863-1944), who was profoundly deaf from birth. It is estimated he took over 20,000 photos in his lifetime, about 3,000 of which are now looked after by Suffolk Archives. Walton spent his whole life in the Bury St Edmunds area, but travelled all over the world.

Walton Burrell and Spot the dog (K997/127/9, courtesy of the Friends of Suffolk Archives)

Walton’s story formed a starting point for creative activities with d/Deaf children and young people at Westgate Community Primary School and King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds. Both schools have Deaf Resource Bases which provide support for their d/Deaf and hard of hearing students.

The project is a partnership between Orchestras Live, Suffolk Archives, Britten Sinfonia, Suffolk Music Education Hub, and both partner schools.

Activity took place in the autumn term of 2023. Working with Deaf flautist Ruth Montgomery, music leader James Redwood, musicians from Britten Sinfonia and film and photography artists from Offshoot Foundation, the young people created new pieces of music to complement visual imagery combining Walton’s photography with their own. They also met Stephen Iliffe, photographer and creator of the Deaf Mosaic project.

The series of workshops culminated with a concert on Monday 4th December at King Edward VI School, when the young participants performed alongside Britten Sinfonia in a celebration of their creativity coupled with orchestral music.

As part of the development phase of the project, young people from both schools visited Suffolk Archives in spring 2023 to hear Walton’s story and see some of his photos. Their comments on this experience included:

‘I would love to do this [project] because it can show how much life has changed over the years for deaf people.’

‘It was … super interesting because the photos were old and fascinating. I want to learn more about Walton.’

‘The person we are talking about was deaf so it is important for deaf people to do the project.’


The culmination concert took place on 4th December 2023 at King Edward VI school. Students performed 4 new pieces of music created for the project inspired by Walton and his photos. A selection of Walton’s photos was curated to appear on the big screen during the different pieces of music, bringing his work to a wider audience for the first time.

The concert was filmed and is available to watch on the Suffolk Archives YouTube channel. Learning resources will be developed to be shared with other schools and an online display will share Walton Burrell’s story and photographs.

We’re delighted to hear from the schools about the ongoing positive impact of the project. At King Edward VI School, “all of the students have displayed increased levels of confidence and 'have a go' attitude” with several students continuing playing instruments and one taking up photography. Three Year 9 students are now also keen to do music for GCSE and the school has been liaising with the exam board about tailoring the course to these students. At Westgate Community Primary School, multiple students have continued playing instruments, with one student now learning to play guitar in a band and two being gifted drums to encourage their newfound interest.

When the man was playing the cello I could feel it in my chest even though my hearing aid wasn’t working well I felt involved still.

~ Student

Shot of audience seated at the Deaf Perspectives concert

I know not to underestimate d/Deaf people, but I was very inspired by what I saw and enjoyed.

~ Audience member

Images courtesy of the Friends of Suffolk Archives. The project is funded by Arts Council England, Orchestras Live, Britten Sinfonia, Suffolk County Council, Ovingdean Hall Foundation, The Belstead Ganzoni Charitable Settlement and The Chivers Trust.

Sign up to our e-bulletin for all the latest news, articles and insights

Sign up