Happiness granted? An experiment in joy

Sebastian Salek was one of 20 residents to take part in a local pandemic experiment – in which he was gifted £363 by a stranger. Here’s what went down

Kirsty and Jamie, whose hen and stag dos were paid for by the grant (Credit: Sebastian Salek)

If a stranger offered to send you several hundred pounds, what would you do? 

That was the question I faced when I discovered a secretive organisation called Experiments in Joy and Care, operating in Walthamstow, offering just that. A few weeks after filling out their online form, I heard my phone ping. A £363 grant was sitting in my account. But there was only one condition: I had to spend it on someone else. 

In the preceding months, I’d grown increasingly close with my neighbours. It started with socially-distanced street drinks to cope with the roaring monotony of lockdown. Soon, we coalesced into a ragtag group of twelve or so, all of different ages and backgrounds. 

At the heart of the group are Kirsty and Jamie, an illustrator and a scaffolder, who met at school in the North East over 20 years ago. They’d decided to get married just before the pandemic. It would be an intimate affair, on a clifftop on the Isle of Skye, attended only by parents and their Boston terrier, George. 

But lockdown after lockdown dashed their hopes. Three planned wedding days came and went, until finally they were able to go ahead. 

After all that, it felt fitting to give Kirsty and Jamie a proper send-off. So when Experiments in Joy and Care asked how I’d spend the money, the answer seemed obvious. What transpired was arguably the world’s first grant-funded hen and stag do. 

The women partied in the park, the men hit the Blackhorse breweries. Neither bride nor groom knew anything about the other’s event, before both groups were reunited in our gardens. 

The money allowed us to make the occasion extra special. We settled on a Mexican theme, and a huge banner was painted. We also paid homage to the couple’s native Stockton-on-Tees, making parmos and serving them in boxes designed to match Jamie’s favourite takeaway. 

So, who was our mysterious benefactor, and what was their motive? It turns out our humble hen and stag dos were part of something much bigger. 

Experiments in Joy and Care received more than 1,200 applications and awarded 20 grants of £363 each. The total of £7,260 seems like an odd amount, but convert it into dollars and it starts to make sense. They were giving away $10,000 USD. 

I’ve since learnt it’s the work of one generous local resident, Sarah Drinkwater, who moved back to Walthamstow last year from the United States. She was so impressed by our community spirit during the pandemic that she decided to fund, as she told me, “people that make the world go round who often get overlooked.” 

Sarah, the mysterious benefactor (Credit: Sarah Drinkwater)

But there’s a twist. She, too, had been chosen to take part in an experiment after filling out an online form, receiving $10,000 from the TED Foundation (of TED Talks fame). Their biggest demand? Keep it a secret. 

With the mystery solved, the two experiments prove one thing I know to be true about Walthamstow: we have a sense of community, and often selflessness, to be proud of.