A former student from Edge Hill University is helping young people with disabilities share their experiences – and their smiles – online in a new blog, which has already reached more than 60,000 people.

Happy Smiles is the brainchild of PE teacher and part-time carer, Alex Winstanley, from Wigan, whose voluntary work with people with cerebral palsy gave him the idea for the blog.

He said:

“I am extremely passionate about promoting the abilities of people with perceived ‘disabilities’. I started the blog to get people to focus on the things people with disabilities can do, rather than what they can’t – to see beyond the disability.”

Alex’s inspiration was his friend Haydn Smith, whose initials also inspired the name of the blog. Alex has worked as Haydn’s personal carer for about a year and says they have become close friends and ‘like family’. Alex said:

“Haydn has the most positive outlook on life of anyone I’ve ever met and he never stops smiling. He had to spend quite a lot of time in hospital recently so I put a post on Facebook asking people to send him pictures of their happy smiles to keep his spirits up. We were amazed by the response so I decided to try and spread the happiness a bit further.”

The blog, which is available on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, includes photos, stories and videos of people with a range of abilities chatting about their lives.

“I want the blog to promote and educate people about the positive side of disability,” said Alex. “People often don’t know how to speak to people with disabilities, or think they’ll say the wrong thing, so they’re scared to approach them.”

Alex was inspired to specialise in disability sports, both in his studies and through volunteering with Embrace Wigan and Leigh, a charity that supports people with disabilities. After graduating from Edge Hill with a degree in PE and School Sports and a PGCE, Alex is now working as a PE teacher and Assistant SENCO at Ormiston Chadwick Academy in Widnes.

Alex added:

“My dream is to travel and meet as many people as possible to share their stories and aspirations on the blog. I’ve already had interest from people in places like Australia and America to be involved. Ultimately, I’d like to start running workshops in schools, alongside people with disabilities, to allow students to meet people like Haydn and get them thinking differently about disability.”