Whistles Women: Sophie Epstone

When you think about the demographics of people that battle with cancer, young adults in their 20s and 30s may not be the first group to spring to mind. However, there are more than 12,500 young adults in the UK diagnosed with cancer every year, which can be an incredibly isolating experience to go through at an early age.
Sophie Epstone was inspired to do more to support young people when someone close to her was diagnosed with cancer and soon after, she founded and created Trekstock: the charity dedicated to helping those in their 20s and 30s overcome the challenges associated with cancer, offering mental, physical and social rehabilitation.
We sat down to talk to Sophie about how the charity began, how she stays motivated for upcoming charity treks, who inspires her and some of the initiatives she’s most proud of.

What inspired you to start Trekstock?

I founded Trekstock after a close family friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer. I wanted to do something to help raise awareness, as we found that there was a real lack of age-appropriate support for young adults.
Back then it was just an idea while I was working in retail. The fundraising began with a small concert called ‘Trekstock’. Through mutual connections and after making some bold requests to some famous names, it just grew and grew. With more support, we formed a Board of Trustees and registered as a charity in 2009. A few months later we launched at Downing Street, Mark Ronson became a Patron and we never looked back.

Who inspires you?

Meeting people that Trekstock has helped is always incredibly inspiring, along with our supporters and hearing their reasons for raising money.
Listening Jo Malone’s Desert Island Discs stopped me in my tracks a few years ago too – she has been an inspiration to me for a long time. She grew a successful business through sheer hard work and determination and overcame cancer in her late 30s.

Can you tell us a bit about the work you do for young people living with cancer?

We help them get moving again physically, socially and emotionally – no matter what stage of treatment they are in and whether they’re living with, through or beyond cancer. We often take our 20s and 30s for granted, but when you’re diagnosed at a young age everything suddenly becomes a lot more complicated.
We’re passionate about delivering programmes that help people take back control over their physical and psychological wellbeing, create meaningful connections and make positive lasting changes that will aid their recovery.

"We help them get moving again physically, socially and emotionally - no matter what stage of treatment they are in and whether they’re living with, through or beyond cancer."

You’ve taken on some really challenging charity treks in the past, including Mount Everest. How do you prepare for these and what keeps you motivated along the way?

I do a lot of walking in general, whether it’s walking to work or escaping London for coastal walks at the weekend with my best friend. So far we’ve done Whitstable right round to Worthing – I find it’s really good for my headspace.
When it comes to mountain treks, I don’t think much about the actual climb too much beforehand because I know somehow I’ll have it in me. I’ve always been surprised at how much my body can do.

Can you talk us through some of the projects that you’re most proud of to date?

We recently hosted a 10th anniversary ‘Urban Trek’ which was a 10-mile walk across London and we raised £30,000 and counting. Seeing that many people supporting the charity trekking alongside those whose lives we’ve helped change was really overwhelming – it made me extremely proud.

Meeting people that Trekstock has helped is always incredibly inspiring, along with our supporters and hearing their reasons for raising money.

Which other charities do you admire at the moment?

There are so many great charities doing incredible work. I have a lot of love and admiration for my friend Kris, the founder of Coppafeel as what she’s achieved is outstanding. We both agree that we’re all stronger together and collaboration across the sector is important.

What other projects do you have on the horizon?

Lots of climbing mountains – physically and metaphorically. I set out to climb the Highest Mountain in North Africa with Whistles and Twin Magazine which is really exciting. We’ve been blown away by everyone’s fundraising and we want to reach more young adults than ever before this year.
Later this year, Trekstock will begin working on our ‘Sanctuary Room’ project – the first dedicated young adult room in UCLH hospital. It’s our boldest initiative to date and as a small charity, we’re really proud to be working with UCLH to build a small home-like environment, offering calmness and different stimuli from the hospital ward. There will be a virtual window to allow the patients to change the atmosphere in order to improve their physical and mental wellbeing.

If you hadn’t founded and created Trekstock, what else would you have liked to do?

I always joke that in another life I’d be working with the Ramblers Association. But before Trekstock I worked in fashion product development and design and events. I still find the research and development areas of my job the most interesting now, as well as connecting people and ideas together.

What would your advice be to anyone looking to start up their own business, initiative or charity?

There are always going to be highs and lows, as well as challenges that seem insurmountable but you have to dig deep and believe that anything is possible.
It’s a 24/7 commitment to build a charity, manage a team, ensure that we’re supporting our fundraisers and that we are there for the people who need us. Also to continue to grow and expand, we have to remain one step ahead and make sure what we’re offering is fresh and relevant to our supporters. I love it and I’m so grateful for my amazing team and our supporters for channeling their energy into helping Trekstock grow and have a meaningful impact.

On 23rd May Trekstock, Whistles, Twin and a selection of artists, photographers and industry insiders will be taking on the highest peak in North Africa to raise £60,000 for the charity. The trek will take them to the summit of Mount Toubkal – a punchy climb in just six unforgettable days.
Visit the Justgiving page here to find out more and donate today.



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