Lurline Champagnie

“I am a retired British Jamaican, a grandmother with 3 grown up sons and husband Clive. I am the first of 7 children, 4 boys and 3 girls. My family was of all ages and all the better for this.”

“I emigrated to the United Kingdom in 1956 to pursue a medical career. I now live in Pinner, Middlesex, UK.”

Lurline has been a councillor for 25 years. She has been a political activist for over 30 years. She was the first black councillor for the London Borough of Harrow and it’s Mayor 2004/2005.

In 2005 Lurline was runner up Mayor of the Year Great Britain Award.

These are the bare bones of what is a truly extraordinary story of a remarkable woman and we are delighted that Lurline has agreed to share her story with the3rdi magazine.

“When I first took my seat in the Council it was a daunting thing. I was surrounded by 62 white folk, mainly men, who just wouldn’t believe that I was there. It wasn’t fun but it was a challenge – and I love a challenge!”

“During my first two terms in office I was joined by a couple of people of Asian origin. There are thriving Asian communities in and around Harrow from whom they could expect a large following. In my case, there are very, very few people in Harrow of Afro-Caribbean origin so in order for me to be successful I must have attracted votes from white residents but once I was in the Council everyone was still surprised that it had happened.”

I asked Lurline why she had gone into politics.
“To be the first black women – to prove that I could while everyone else said that I couldn’t”

“When I first came to Britain my mother said that I would have to get a job in the factory as black women in Britain didn’t get office jobs. I thought to myself, well, I’m not going to work in a factory! So I applied for a job in an office. I was 20 years old and it was 1956! My appointment was for 2pm and when I was still waiting at 2.30 I marched up to the reception desk and insisted that I was seen straight away. I wasn’t going to be treated discourteously. I will meet any challenge head on and I’ll stand up to anyone! Later I was told that I would never be able to own a house in the UK, that as a black person I would have to rent but I’d had my own home in Jamaica so when I sold it I bought one here!”

“After working in an office for a while I decided to train as a nurse and became ward sister at the prestigious new burns unit at Mount Vernon hospital. An opportunity arose to apply to win a chance to study in the USA. It was intended for medical students and I was just a nurse, but I thought to myself ‘I would like to do that‘. So I applied for and won the scholarship to America. The doctors weren’t pleased, of course, but I really wanted to learn all that I could, so off I went.”

“When I returned I took a job with a company selling medical appliances. The company wanted to relocate to Ireland so I decided to buy the company! This was in 1980 and again people said that I’d never get a business loan but I did! And came up with my own name, designed my own logo and set up in business!”

“It has not all been plain sailing. In the early days I found a five-acre site that the owners couldn’t develop and which they were prepared to give to me so that I could build a nursing home. I established a group with five doctors to develop the project but, because I was a black woman, they felt able to go behind my back and progress the project without me. I could have been crushed by that but it made me stronger. I redeveloped my own home into a nursing home, which is to this day, still a care home for the elderly.”

It was partly down to that experience that Lurline decided to enter politics. “I actually attended my first Conservative Party Conference in 1984 while I was still a nurse and my speech about the NHS received a standing ovation. In 1985 I returned and gave a speech which was internationally acclaimed when I said that I was proud of the NHS, proud to be black, and proud to be British. This really shook the Conservative party at the time and I think that they thought that I had come from another planet!”

“Once I was on the political ladder I was determined to give as good as I got. I put myself in Margaret Thatcher’s arena and I knew I had the strength to make my mark. While I was standing for election there was a feeling that I couldn’t make it but once I did I was well supported.”

The 1984 conference was, of course, infamous for the IRA bombing. I asked Lurline what she recalled from that day.
“I hadn’t been sure that I was going to stay in Brighton during the conference. I decided to go to Brighton so just packed a suitcase, booked a room in the hotel behind the Grand Hotel and walked to the conference. After my speech, Margaret Thatcher sent a personal invitation for me to join her for tea and sent an invitation to the Grand ball.” “During the conference, a man collapsed with breathing difficulties. There were plenty of doctors in the room but they all seemed unsure of what to do so I just went up and took control. It was clear that the man needed to go to hospital and so I called an ambulance and went with him to hospital. I returned to the Grand Hotel at around 2am. I went into the now deserted ballroom to collect the belongings that I had left in my hurry to help the sick gentleman, and made my way back to my hotel. I was just ready to go to bed when I heard a huge bang. I looked out and saw what I thought was a huge amount of smoke rising from the Grand Hotel, which I now know was dust.”

“There was a doctor in the room next to mine and I knocked on his door and we both went round to the Grand. There was a policeman at the entrance and he refused to let us pass and so we returned to our hotel but I thought, ‘this is nonsense, I’m a nurse‘, and so I returned.”

“This time, in the confusion, I walked straight through and saw Norman Tebbit lying on a stretcher. I held his hand and talked to him to comfort him until the policeman returned and instructed us to leave as it was really dangerous and the emergency teams had arrived and needed space to work.”

“By the time I returned to my hotel the news of the bombing was on the TV. Of course my husband was really worried about me. He had been ringing my hotel and when he didn’t get an answer he assumed that I must have been in the Grand and injured, or worse, by the bombing. Needless to say he was delighted to finally hear from me. The story didn’t stop there as, having been one of the last people to enter the hotel in the early hours of the morning in order to collect my belongings, I was captured on CCTV and considered a suspect! The police were in my home for many days after the bombing until they were sure I hadn’t been involved.”

“I have enjoyed my time in politics and have been a councillor for 25 years. I was the first black councillor for the London Borough of Harrow and the Mayor in 2004/2005. In 2005 I was runner up Mayor of the Year Great Britain Award.”

Towards the end of the last parliament Harriet Harman set up an ‘equality task force‘. After an exhausting selection process during which hundreds of women were interviewed, Lurline was selected to be one of the 15. She is currently appointed to the Government Equalities Department as a BAME Taskforce member and has founded the Charity Reach Out Africa (ROA) for which she is a patron.

Lurline was and continues to be a trial blazer. She is a loyal public servant with tireless energy. She brings her frontline experiences of service to the NHS and small businesses together with her rare ability to connect with people from all walks of life, to any thing she does and here at the3rdi magazine we wish her continued success!

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