Social Enterprise of the Month: Happy Smiles

Blog Created: March 22, 2024

We caught up with Alex Winstanley from Happy Smiles Training to find out how working with global brands such as Manchester United and Levis, as well as local schools will make the world a more inclusive place for people with disabilities.

Alex said: “We deliver inclusion training, led by people with lived experience of disability and neurodiversity. Haydn and I set up Happy Smiles as we didn’t see anything like what we do, which is essentially looking at removing barriers, removing the stigma and increasing opportunities for disabled people to have employment pathways and to create positive change.”

Alex, a former PE and SENCO teacher, started the social enterprise with friend Haydn Smith in 2019.

“About 18 months before we set up, Haydn spent nearly a year in hospital with complications due to his cerebral palsy. We asked people to send pictures of them smiling so he could look through these pictures on his iPad to cheer himself up and inspired our name – Happy Smiles Training. Our ethos is sharing lived experience to create positive change.

On any given day they can be running inclusive school sports session or explaining the power of the ‘purple pound’ to the biggest sports clubs in the world.

Happy Smiles now boast a workforce of 24 staff and volunteers, is looking for space to expand into. They have a constantly growing team of trainers in Wigan and are now working with new trainers across the UK. In the four and a half years they have been in operation, they have delivered to more than 17,000 people.

Alex said: “With me having been a teacher, in schools our focus is primarily the children. How do we change the isolation or exclusion that people face in education. Although we do offer staff training, with young people it is about planting the seed early. 

“Children In Need has supported us to go into schools for six weeks at time to train up children as Inclusion Champions – particularly those who have a lived direct or indirect link with disability.”

Happy Smiles has branched out, from training carers and personal assistants to working with college and university students, solicitors and construction companies. Wigan Warriors Community Foundation, Wigan Athletic and Manchester United have all benefitted from their expertise.

“We train businesses to become disability confident. We have recently worked with Levis on disability awareness in retail. We talk about everything from how start a conversation with disabled customers to why businesses are losing out on £274bn a year from the ‘purple pound’ – the spending power of disabled people. What they can do within their practice to make sure that customers disabled customers feel included and want to spend money in their store.”

The Happy Smiles team, over 90% of which is disabled, takes the approach of matching jobs to abilities, with some people needing more support than others. 

“We say: These are their skills, interests and experience. This is what they want to do and they have this a particular disability. We just try and balance the training we are delivering that to meet the wishes of that individual.”

Alex stressed the importance of the social support Happy Smiles provides for its staff: “After covid, our team said: ‘As well as delivering the training, we want to get together once a week.’ The social inclusion proved vital – that social circle of support. We work really hard at that to make sure people are ready and happy to be here delivering.”

With a fifth of the population having one or more disabilities, it seems that Happy Smiles Training has never been more in demand. They are currently negotiating their next big project delivering ‘Oliver McGowan’ training, mandatory learning disability and autism awareness for NHS staff and health and social care workers.

Alex concludes “Around 20 per cent of our community here in Wigan are disabled so we need to be meeting their needs. 83 per cent of disabled people actually acquire their disability rather than are born with it, so anyone could become disabled at any moment. It is only when it happens to you that you realise what you need. 

“Businesses that book Happy Smiles are not only supporting a local social enterprise, but they are supporting a local disabled person on a pathway to employment that might otherwise be nearly non-existent.  

To book Happy Smiles Training visit their website. Folllow them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.

Recent Blog Posts:

    Social Media: 

    Are you someone or have you identified someone who might benefit from becoming involved with WLCC or any of our initiatives such as Made in Wigan?

    There are various ways that you can get in touch to take things forward.

    It may be that you want to make contact to first find out if there really is a ‘fit’.

    You may want to speak on the phone, come and visit us on behalf of someone, or maybe you’d like to bring someone along for an initial chat.

    Whichever route you prefer we can accommodate.

    First things first though, share some brief details and we’ll be back in touch!


      Follow us on social media...
      Facebook Logo
      Instagram Logo
      Twitter Logo
      YouTube Logo
      Wigan & Leigh Community Charity. Business Community Hub. Platt Bridge Community Zone.
      81 Ribble Road, Platt Bridge, Wigan. WN2 5EG
      made possible by the hard work and dedication of many people and among others the following organisations.
      crossmenu-circle linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram