North East Connected

Family struggle inspires MS awareness work

AlanA photographer is aiming to raise awareness of multiple sclerosis (MS) after documenting the lives of people with the condition, and was inspired to understand more about the illness by her granddad.

Tyla Fairbairn dedicated the final year of her Photography degree at the University of Sunderland to discovering what living with MS is really like and, through still imagery and audio recordings, captured the problems people face.

The 20-year-old, from Bedlington, was first inspired by her granddad, who has the condition, after realising she knew very little about his fight with MS. This led her to create A Silent Struggle as her degree show project – the end of year assessed exhibitions held annually at the University.

She said: “I started looking into multiple sclerosis and first decided to base a project on my granddad.  I wanted to inform viewers of the condition and get to know more about it myself. The project allowed me to not only understand the effects of MS on my granddad, but also allowed me to spend more time with him and create a closer bond.

“For ‘Silent Struggle’ I decided to develop the idea and look at more than just one person who suffered with MS. I wanted to show that it didn’t define who they are and bring out their personality through still images and audio.

“I also wanted to show that MS affects people in different ways, how they deal with those situations, and provide an insight into the process and development of the condition, and the positivity the individuals have to be able to cope.”

The project provides an insight into the lives of Alan, Katherine, Kim, and Liz, all from the North East, who talk about their own experience of MS; from diagnosis and everyday challenges, to the strength of character each has developed.

Multiple sclerosis is a condition that can affect the brain as well as the spinal cord, and includes symptoms such as impairment of speech and mobility problems, blurred vision, and severe fatigue. All symptoms are caused by damage to the nervous system.

Patients often have similar symptoms, but there are many that can be attributed to other conditions, and symptoms fluctuate, which can make diagnosis more challenging. With the audience being able to see and hear the stories, Tyla is hoping to connect people with each MS sufferer on a more personal and individual level.

Jenna Mahoney, from the MS Society, said: “We applaud Tyla’s efforts to raise awareness of multiple sclerosis – an unpredictable condition that affects more than 100,000 people in the UK. Her photos look great and we wish her all the best with the project.”

Tyla, who is currently looking for further ways to expand the project, graduated from the University of Sunderland this summer, and looks back on her time fondly.

She added: “It has been a pleasure to attend the University of Sunderland. The facilities and equipment I have been able to access at the Northern Centre of Photography have allowed me to experiment and test out a range of techniques and skills I hadn’t had the chance to access before starting the course.

“My confidence, not only in my ability in photography but also as a person, has improved drastically due to the support from the lecturers and my peers.”

Tyla is looking to hear from anyone interested in her work. To find out more visit or

You can view A Silent Struggle here.

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