Childhood friends walk from London to Brighton in memory of Lesley

Three friends will walk from London to Brighton over two days this May – a distance of 100km – in memory of their childhood friend Lesley Wood, who lived in East Preston.

Janet Farrugia, Eve Smith and Carolyn Ponder met Lesley at Horsham High School for Girls and have been friends ever since. They were part of a group of eight schoolfriends who kept in regular contact, enjoying each other’s company in their 60s as much as they did when they all met aged 11.

Image above: Lesley’s schoolfriends: Eve Smith, Jane Hanks, Karen Dawes, Phillipa Bristow, Janet Farrugia and Carolyn Ponder

In 2018, when Lesley received the devastating news that she had Stage 4 ovarian cancer, her friends were there to support her. “Eve had the brilliant idea that we each pick a day of the week and send Lesley a weekly postcard,” says Janet. “Nowadays, most of us don’t tend to get much through the post apart from negative things like bills,” she adds. “This was something positive, and showed Lesley that we were thinking of her.”

Sadly, Lesley died in October 2023 and the friends quickly decided they wanted to do something in tribute to Lesley and to raise money for the hospice that supported her, St Barnabas House.

“Lesley went through so many challenges herself,” says Janet. “In her last five years, she battled heroically and never really complained. I only saw her cry a couple of times – she was very stoical. We thought that if she could do that, we could certainly push ourselves to do two days of walking.”

The wider friendship group will be supporting the walkers and will be there to meet them with cake (an important feature of their get-togethers) at the end of the route.

Image above: Lesley with her dog Pebbles

For Janet, doing something positive for Lesley has helped with the grieving process: “It makes you feel that you’re giving something back,” she says. “St Barnabas was so good to her, and she said how comfortable she was, knowing that they would be the people supporting her at the end. The hospice helped her husband, Chris, and children, Sam and Stephie, to care for her at home and when the time came, the whole family couldn’t have felt better supported.”

Lesley and Chris moved to East Preston in 2012. She worked as a speech and language therapist until the end of her life. “She was a very positive person and extremely kind,” says Janet. “She never had a bad word to say about anybody and she was always smiling – she had beautiful blue eyes which were always twinkling.

“She was very devoted to her family and one of the great highlights of Lesley’s life was when her daughter, Stephie, got married in 2022. Stephie gave birth to Lesley’s first grandchild, Sofia in January 2023 so Lesley got to spend a few months with her. That gave her a lot of pleasure, although of course she would have loved to be part of Sofia’s life for longer. She and Chris also loved being out on the road with Sam and his band Wayward Sons.”

The love the friends have for their friend shines very brightly and will help propel them on their walk in May. Other members of the wider friendship group plan to undertake their own fundraising in Lesley’s memory later in the year. “It will be a team effort,” says Janet.

“Lesley was so altruistic, always thinking about other people. This is our opportunity to do something for her.”

Support Janet, Carolyn and Eve: