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Reintroducing Sophie Epstone, The Founder Of Our Charity Partner Trekstock

Sophie Epstone is the founder of Trekstock; a charity dedicated to helping those in their 20s and 30s overcome the challenges associated with cancer, offering mental, physical and social support. Sophie created the charity soon after someone close to her received a diagnosis, with a mission to offer more support to young adults facing a very intimidating and isolating journey.

We are proud to partner with Trekstock and look forward to hosting more Style Nights in our stores, offering a space for people to connect with each other and receive tailored styling advice on dressing with confidence. We sat down once again with Sophie to discuss how the charity began, our collaborative Style Nights, the power of community and some of her most challenging treks.

First off, can you remind our readers how Trekstock started?

Trekstock started in 2009. A friend of mine had cancer in their early 20s and I could see then that there was a gap in support. There’s brilliant services for children and teenagers and for older people — but for those in their 20s and 30s, it was clear that there was something missing. When I first started Trekstock, we brought together a panel of young people in their 20s and 30s who had had cancer or were undergoing treatment for cancer. We wanted to make sure that if we were to start providing services, we didn’t duplicate what was already there and make sure that we worked in partnership with the brilliant charities that already existed. Over time, we came up with the support needs of young people — which were exactly the same back then as they are today. These are things like support around fertility, relationships, early menopause, exercise, nutrition, careers and the financial cost of cancer — all the things that affect people when they are diagnosed in this age group. We then started to develop programmes that supported people around those specific things.

And what has the charity been up to this year so far? What are your main focuses?

We continue to build our community across the UK. One of our biggest focuses this year is to increase our reach and that’s why we are working with partners like Whistles, which is brilliant because you help us grow our reach. We’ve started delivering a menopause programme, which has just won an award.. We’re the only charity who has developed a menopause programme specifically for people who have early onset menopause in their 20s and 30s through having cancer and the treatments associated — so that’s been really amazing. We’re also continuing to roll out our RENEW programme, which helps people become stronger and more confident and fitter during treatment and post-treatment. During COVID we put everything online, but now people really want to meet up in person. So, things like the Whistles x Trekstock Style Nights are amazing opportunities for us to offer something to our community, so people can get together. There’s nothing like the power of peer support when they’re all together in the room.

We’ve recently been working with you on offering in-store style nights to connect young people dealing with or recovering from cancer. How important is it for people to spend time with others who have faced a similar experience?

I think it can be transformational. It always amazes me when we have a Trekstock event and somebody walks in and they say “I didn’t know there were people like me around”, as depending on where they’re treated, they may not have access to people their own age.The cut-off for teenager and young adult care is 25 years old, so if you’re over that age, you’re often treated with much older people, and you really can feel isolated and alone. People come up to us after events and some of our online courses, and say it’s just changed their life because they’ve found that support and have also met other people going through a similar thing. I think that’s one of the most important things that we change here with all of our programmes, making sure that there’s always this running theme of community. So, although you might be doing an exercise programme, you’re doing it with other people, and you’ve got the chance to connect with them afterwards. At the Style Nights, you’re getting style advice but you’re also feeling more confident and connecting with other people that can give you that support. What’s also really nice is that we often finish events and then a few weeks later we hear that people have formed friendship groups or support groups, especially after Style Night. There was a group of people actually who all met at the first Style Night at Whistles who still support each other, and they formed a real bond.

I think it can be transformational. It always amazes me when we have a Trekstock event and somebody walks in and they say “I didn’t know there were people like me around”, as depending on where they’re treated, they may not have access to people their own age.The cut-off for teenager and young adult care is 25 years old, so you’re often treated with much older people, and you really can feel isolated and alone.

Trekstock style night, St Christopher’s Place

What else would you recommend for those looking to connect with others dealing with similar experiences?

We offer an online community that’s 1000s of young people across the UK who connect daily. They answer each other’s questions and get advice. That’s also where we share resources. We’d love to do more Style Nights and we would love to be able to do those regionally — I guess they’re just so helpful and useful to people. If you can’t make one of our events in person, the online community is also really, really supportive.In the summer, we’re running meet and paddle events again, where we do kayaking and watersports. So, I think if anybody feels like they need support or know someone who needs support, then just come and have a chat with us or get in touch online and we can let them know what we’ve got on and how we can support them.

What do you feel treks/outdoor activities can bring to people and what have they brought to you?

Treks are one of my favourite things to do because you are getting out there and connecting with people in a slightly different way. I feel like they’re really motivating, they’re often quite life changing, and they’re obviously a challenge. One of the last ones we did was really, really, really hard. But I think what people say on every trek, at some point of the trek is that although this is really difficult for them, it can’t be as hard as what people are going through when they go through cancer. And I think we often describe cancer as being like a trek, because you are supported all the way along, you finish treatment, which is like reaching the top of the mountain, and then often that support disappears, and people will say, “Well done! You’re finished now, off you go”, and people say to us that actually it’s coming down the mountain that’s the hardest part. So, that’s why we want to be there for them at the start, during, and then for life after cancer. When you’ve finished your trek you remain friends with people or carry on supporting Trekstock, so there’s lots of synergies with it. They’re just one of our favourite things to do, getting out there and feeling like you hit a goal or a challenge. They’re just really good adventures. We’ve got a very exciting trek in the South Downs with Whistles in July which we can’t wait for!

What advice would you give to people who are new to walking and the outdoors? How can they prepare and stay motivated?

As a team, we love walking and we often do walking meetings. Just get your boots on and start walking, building up gradually. Don’t overdo it. We trek with people who have cancer, who are part of our community, we trek with all sorts of people and actually, everybody’s goal and challenge is very personal. Make sure you’ve got good boots, you are doing some training, and knowing that you’re doing something that’s going to really make a difference kind of spurs you on as well.

We trek with people who have cancer, who are part of our community, we trek with all sorts of people and actually, everybody’s goal and challenge is very personal. Make sure you’ve got good boots, you are doing some training, and knowing that you’re doing something that’s going to really make a difference kind of spurs you on as well.

What’s been your most challenging experience trekking?

My first trek, which probably was a bit ambitious, was an advanced base camp on Mount Everest. I was particularly ill from the altitude and that was really, really tough. My favourite ones have been trekking across the Sahara Desert because it was like a digital detox, as well as everything else. It’s very rare that you have a day or a few hours where you’re disconnected from everything and that’s one of the reasons why the treks are really special because it’s about your own time. You’re not being interrupted, you’ve got amazing scenery, you’re trekking with incredible people and you’re also smashing a goal. I often find that you reach the summit or the end goal and it’s really emotional. The Whistles one we did in Mount Toubkal in Morocco was really amazing, walking up to the top of the mountain, having set off at sunrise. I still remember the lights and the shape of the mountains and how it was really hard but we just had to work as a team — that was one of my favourites to date.

Talk us through other charities you admire and are close to you?

We’ve got partnerships with Young Lives vs Cancer, Teenage Cancer Trust and Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust and they’re charities that we have looked up to for years and now we work in partnership with them, which is really nice as we’re able to refer more people into each other’s services. Others to note are Black Women Rising who are doing such brilliant work. Leanne, their founder is really inspiring. I also love what SmartWorks does to give women confidence and empower them back into work.

What’s coming up for you and Trekstock?

One of the things we have launched is Merch For Good. We have found that it’s harder and harder to fundraise, so we work with bands and musicians across the world and they donate T-shirt designs, which we sell globally — it’s an amazing way for us to fundraise. That’s something that we’d love more people to know about, as we’ve actually found that there’s people who didn’t know about the charity, but bought one of the T-shirts from the band, and then realised that there’s a charity associated with them, which is amazing. I think this year for us is about taking treks up to the next level and kind of harvesting all the support out there and really trying to grow our regional reach. So I guess, if there’s anybody that wants to get involved or partner with us or just wants to find out more, we’d love to make new friends with the charity.

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