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As Black History Month draws to a close, we spoke to Ambrose Harcourt, one of our Vice Presidents, about his personal history, his long association with St Barnabas House and Chestnut Tree House and his aspirations for the future.
Originally born and brought up in Nigeria, Ambrose came to the UK when he was just 16. He first lived in Norfolk, London and Surrey, before moving to Worth, nr Crawley, where his children – twin boys and a girl – were born before moving to the coast, Goring by Sea, Worthing where his kids went to school. Over the years, he has lived in Goring, Buxted – where he married his second wife, Pauline, a Sussex girl – and now Angmering, and regards himself very much as a ‘Sussex boy’!
Ambrose is probably best known as local DJ and celebrity, ‘Mr Lurve’, thanks to his almost constant presence on the radio for over 30 years.
He was offered his first local radio job at Southern Sound in 1986, presenting his ‘Soul Direction’ show once a week on a Saturday. This was later added on to the ‘Love Hour,’ which Ambrose then built up to seven days a week in different varieties at Southern FM including the ‘Love Zone’ and ‘Night Time Heart & Soul’.
Ambrose has also worked on Ocean FM, Power FM in Hampshire, Capital Gold in London, Juice in Brighton, Sussex radio stations Spirit, Sovereign and Bright, and helped launch Arrow FM in Hastings. His talents have also extended to TV voiceover and presenting jobs on BBC 1 and 2, and the ‘Looking for Love series’ on Meridian, ITV and Sky.
Thanks to his local celebrity status and radio connections, Ambrose got involved with St Barnabas House – the adults’ hospice for Worthing – many years ago, helping to raise vital funds and awareness for the hospice, and later becoming one of the charity’s Patrons.
When the decision was made to build Chestnut Tree House, Ambrose took up the challenge and threw himself into helping with his trademark enthusiasm.
“Back in 1998, when I was first approached about the idea of a children’s hospice in Sussex, I must confess I was not very keen on getting involved. Too busy, is an excuse we all use.
“Luckily, the person who approached me at the time, Monica Ridley, the Chair of St Barnabas House, would not take NO for an answer. She explained they were looking for someone that everyone knew. I was going to suggest some names to her. When I asked, “Who do you have in mind,” she replied, “YOU of course” over a cup of coffee. I nearly choked at the time, but she eventually convinced me to get involved so I became the founding Patron of Chestnut Tree House.
“And then after I said, YES, she had a surprise for me. She told me that we had to raise £5 million in three years to build the hospice.
“We did raise that money, with lots of fundraising events – in the early days, small ones, with face painting, raffles, tombolas, Friends of Chestnut Tree House, you name it, we did it. We were also lucky that Lady Sarah Clutton gave us the land to build the House and Princess Alexandra officially opened the hospice in 2003.
“During those early days, I got to meet many of the families who required the help of an organisation like Chestnut Tree House. I visited one of those families in Durrington and spent a couple of hours with them to see how much work is involved in looking after a child with a life-limiting illness with two other healthy children in the family. It was such hard work for their mum that after my visit, I sat in the car for, it must have felt like 30 minutes, and tears rolled down my cheeks.
“It was then that I threw down a challenge to myself to work tirelessly, come up with new ideas to raise money, help with more fundraising, introduce people to Chestnut Tree House, many of whom are very involved today and have done so much to raise the profile and awareness of Chestnut Tree House and help more children and families in our area.”
Over the last 17 years, Ambrose has shown huge commitment and dedication to the hospices, from helping with the appeal to build the current St Barnabas hospice and opening new hospice shops, to taking part in a Pier to Pier cycle ride from Brighton to Worthing and the St Barnabas Night to Remember midnight walk.
Not forgetting the Snowman Spectacular Ball which has helped raise the profile of Chestnut Tree House, not just regionally but also nationally, and of course the Chestnut Tree House Business Awards which he has compered since its inception.
But one of his highlights was taking part in the “Inca Trail Challenge” trek to Machu Picchu, Peru in November 2019. Says Ambrose, “It was completely out of my comfort zone. I like walking but hate trekking and doing it with the altitude challenges was just something else. I also hate camping. But I wanted to challenge myself, to do it for the Chestnut Tree House children and families. Between the 34 of us on the trek, we raised £152,000 and made lifelong friendships. It’s a delight for me to be involved, I feel very lucky and enormously proud.”
As he approaches his 73rd birthday in December, Ambrose shows no sign of slowing down! Although no longer on the radio, he runs a PR agency and has just started working with Public Health England, local hospitals, social services, homeless charities and the police on a new initiative, HARP (Hospital Admission Reduction Programme), helping people with alcohol and drug addiction.
“I love people and I love working,” says Ambrose. “I hope that I will go some way to inspiring a new generation of men and women from diverse backgrounds to become part of the future of Chestnut Tree House and St Barnabas House as a charity.
“Diversity is really important in the world we live in right now and believe you me, whatever your colour, you can make a real difference in your community if you put your heart and soul into it.
“So please, let’s make a pledge together to ‘spread the lurve’ about the hospices, tell people about the vital care they provide to local people and encourage everyone to get involved with the charity in whatever way they can.”