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“Why is that man in a wheelchair?”

It was this curious question from a young girl, aimed at my friend and co-founder of Happy Smiles Training, Haydn, that inspired the inception of our social enterprise. In fact, it was the response from her Dad, who simply walked away. It wasn’t Dad’s fault. He didn’t have the lived experience of disability and the daily barriers that Haydn, myself and all of the 90% of disabled people who now make up our organisation have. I knew that we had to be the ones to answer questions like this one.

Since that moment, I knew I needed to leave my comfortable teaching job and set up a purpose-driven business with absolutely no business skills, experience or contacts. I have since committed every day to building a social enterprise from nothing, to positively impacting over 20,000 people. Despite the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on disabled people, we have grown our team to include and empower 42 local disabled people to deliver disability inclusion-based training to schools, community groups and businesses across the North West. Of those people, 100% have found long-term volunteering or employment with us or elsewhere thanks to our support. This takes an endless amount of energy and dedication, making sure that every disabled person in our team has the daily tools to positively impact communities using their lived experiences. But I won’t stop until disabled people are given the same daily opportunities as their non-disabled peers.

Since being named on the Disability Power 100 List 2022 and 2023, we have taken our work to new heights. Whilst having already been supported by national disabled and non-disabled leaders such as Mike Adams OBE (“An absolutely brilliant organisation helping to change the disability conversation), the Mayor of Wigan (“Happy Smiles are changing the lives of our residents”) and Lisa Nandy MP (“A fantastic local organisation led by disabled people”), our work has received further recognition and support. Our first patron was announced last year, Isaac Harvey MBE, who has said, “What they are achieving on a daily basis is changing the narrative when it comes to disability”. We were named Greater Manchester Community Business of the Year 2022 and won the Third Sector Award 2022 for Volunteer Team of the Year, recognising the 100+ hours of support we receive from disabled and non-disabled volunteers every week. We have been commissioned by Wigan Council to develop Wigan Borough’s first 3-year Equality, Diversity & Inclusion strategy, whilst also being supported by Children In Need to develop a Youth Disability Charter for Wigan Borough, by training up over 150 ‘Inclusion Champions’ in local schools. Haydn and I were recently invited to attend a Royal Garden Party, in recognition of our impact, whilst I was also named Edge Hill University Alumni of the Year 2024 and a top ten Northern Gamechanger.

I also write award-winning children’s books that raise awareness of long-term health conditions and societal barriers, whilst promoting diverse representation and inclusion. These books support families around the world and are all co-produced by people with lived experience, including an upcoming book this year about Autism, whilst one of my previous books about depression and mental health was featured on ITV.