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Real-life story of inspiration after tragedy… meet Heather Keats, 42, from Cheltenham, UK, whose best friend, Sophie Bolton, sadly died from cancer in 2022 at the young age of 43. Sophie’s untimely death gave Heather the encouragement she needed to follow her dreams and move her family to New Zealand… to Whitianga. It was a new life, a new business, and a new network… Freelance Mum New Zealand… Here is Heather’s story…
 |  Heather Keats  | 

Heather Keats, local, Anna Mason and Sophie Bolton (deceased) – all three were founding members of Freelance Mum UK.

The death of my best friend inspired freelance Mum New Zealand Hub.

“I met Sophie in the usual place that Mums make friends, the park! I was new to the area and slowly sidled up to a group of women chatting away when Sophie turned around and, in a bid, to help me join in, asked me if I liked running. Apparently – the way she tells it – I simply said, ‘No’. And I guess being the introvert that I am, failed to come up with anything else to say. Thankfully, she didn’t give up on me that easily and over the next few years of playgroups, school runs, parties, and both of us setting up our own business, we became firm friends.

In fact, she was a personal training client of mine for a while and she helped me with my social media. We even ran a pop-up event together called, ‘Business Fit’. A chance for mums in business to come together for some exercise and then spend some time working on their social media strategy. A wild idea but it was fun and those are the exact words I’d use to describe Sophie.

One day, Sophie dragged my shy self, off to a network meeting called Freelance Mum (she was always making me step out of my comfort zone). She drove us to this big, beautiful church in Bristol and when I walked in, it was full of children and chatter and cups of tea and it felt like home.

I did my first netwalk with kids in tow, met some other great mums in business who I’m still in touch with, shared laughs, cake, struggles and big dreams.

Then in January 2021, entirely out of the blue, Sophie – my fit, loving, wild best friend, got the devastating diagnosis that she had a cancerous tumour on her bowel.

I was with her at that time and all throughout her surgery, recovery, chemo and more. Somehow, through it all she remained her happy, laughing, fun self. Yes, there were devastated tears and unanswered questions, days of not leaving the house and long hugs. But then Sophie continued to be a positive influence on those around her, encouraging friends and family to buy that house, go on that trip, start that business, even when she moved into St Peter’s Hospice when she was told no more treatment options were left.

Less than two years after her initial diagnosis, Sophie died with friends and family surrounding her.

A few months after that, we held Sophie’s ‘Restival’. A festival style celebration of her life and friendships which she had insisted on – live bands, bouncy castle, cocktails, camping and so much more. She was definitely there with us in spirit.

Sophie was always courageous and many of us, when faced with difficult life decisions, have since found ourselves asking, ‘What would Sophie do?’

In fact, it was this spirit that made me one day say to my husband, ‘What if you asked work for a sabbatical and we took the kids to New Zealand for a year?’ And so here we are, doing just that in Sophie’s honour. She never said no to adventure.

In response, I’m bringing the Freelance Mum hub from the UK to Whitianga, to support local mums in business, make connections, share stories and ideas and friendships. The founder of Freelance Mums in UK, Faye Dicker, who was also a good friend of Sophie, is helping me in this. “I’m incredibly proud of Heather, taking a chance and seizing an opportunity to launch a hub in New Zealand”, says Faye. “It shows the importance of strength in a community. I’ve always said we can do anything between us at Freelance Mum, and this is proof of that. When Sophie died, we all felt it. The fact that her death inspired Heather to travel to New Zealand and launch a hub, means Sophie will leave a lasting legacy.” I am excited. We need each other to thrive, not just as mothers but as businesswomen. Both can be lonely work unless we push our boundaries and sometimes step outside of our comfort zones. Sophie would have loved that I was here and been encouraging of my recent surfboard purchase.(I want to learn to ride a surfboard)

‘Freelance Mums NZ hub will meet once a month at the Picnic Bench at Whitianga Wharf to ‘netwalk’ for fresh air and focus questions and support each other in motherhood and business and (crucially) bring their children. Also, there are weekly online ‘coffee mornings’ to keep the connections and korero flowing. We are trialling the events in Whitianga throughout April and May and are keen to keep growing the network across New Zealand.

Enquiries: See What’s On for more the programme information.