All Smiles when offering support in Wigan

A training service based in Wigan has boosted its reach by holding an online Q&A session with the mayor.
Members of Happy Smiles with Coun Yvonne KlieveMembers of Happy Smiles with Coun Yvonne Klieve
Members of Happy Smiles with Coun Yvonne Klieve

Happy Smiles Training CIC hosted the event from The Galleries to mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

They were joined by Wigan Council leaders, including Mayor Coun Yvonne Klieve and Chief Executive ​​Alison McKenzie-Folan.

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British wheelchair rugby team player Danny Dawoud was also in attendance and spoke of his struggles with accessibility when travelling to sporting events.

The session was a chance for young people to explain how the battle for inclusion rages on, with and how although they may have different needs, they were keen to be valued members of society.

Attendees asked questions about everything from transport to attitudes – and how Wigan can be improved to make the town more inclusive.

Happy Smiles Training CIC was founded by former teacher and carer Alex Winstanley. While supporting disabled people, Alex realised the hidden or overlooked potential that they had.

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Instead of offering expensive day care, Alex wanted to offer them the opportunity to get into work.

At the same time, educators and employers needed more inclusion awareness training. With that the organisation was born.

Alex and his team of Inclusion Champions now visit schools and businesses to run training sessions which promote inclusion, resilience and tolerance – and all from the point of view of people with lived experience.

Alex said: “I got fed up with seeing disabled friends being undervalued and stigmatised, stuck in a system of care provision that didn’t encourage or support their potential aspirations.

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“We give people the unique experience of understanding differences through the first-hand experience of our Inclusion Champions.

“Our sessions help people to gain a better understanding of what life can be like for a disabled person, whilst supporting them to develop a positive attitude towards disability.”

While the Inclusion Champions set out to give an insight into disability, they have been met with a demand to cover more issues: “At first we started training in generic disability awareness but quickly found we were being asked to focus on topics such as resilience, equality and diversity and positive risk management.

“Our training can be made bespoke to suit any organisation’s needs and wishes, so anything we don’t currently offer can be created.”

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Going forward, Alex and the team are keen to train as many people as possible. Their work has taken them all over the North West and Alex is happy to arrange training further afield.

For schools and community groups in particular, training can even be funded through fundraising events or through joint funding bids with the not-for-profit organisation.

Alongside the organisation, Alex has written a series of children’s books, which help to explain in detail about some conditions which can be tricky for schools and parents or carers to address.

The titles cover a range of conditions, including My Grandma Has Dementia, My Uncle Has Depression, My Child Has Cerebral Palsy and more.

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Alex added: “I wrote the books in lockdown when we were prevented from getting into schools and out in the community.

“I wanted to find a way to continue to positively impact children and young people in particular and, with the impact of lockdowns on reading levels for children, this seemed like the perfect fit.

“I am extremely passionate about promoting a diverse and inclusive society, in which every person is valued and celebrated. Each one of my books is inspired by real people, as I believe there is nothing more important than giving a voice to those with lived experience.”

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