Luke Ambler is a man on a mission. From encouraging other men to talk in his role as founder of suicide prevention charity, Andy’s Man Club, to motivational speaking and planning adventures for his family, he’s always moving forwards – and with intent. As Luke shares with Happiful, it takes work to get what you want, and he’s prepared to put in the hard graft
Recently, in just one week, 660 men walked through the doors of Andy’s Man Club meetings, wanting to talk, listen, and share their experiences. For many of these men, the meetings are life-changing and, for some, life-saving.
The club was named after Luke Ambler’s brother-in-law, Andy, who died by suicide in 2016. Witnessing his family’s grief spurred Luke on to do something to make a difference, and now the suicide prevention charity holds free meetings for men across the UK every week.
What began as an informal support network in the North of England, has now spread across the country, with meetings all the way from Devon to Scotland. The number of attendees only continues to grow, as do advocates for the user-led movement.
In early September, club facilitators took to the streets as part of a tour across 22 locations, reaching out to men who may not have been aware of the charity, or who might need encouragement to take their first steps towards help.
It was an epic undertaking – but for Luke, the most powerful element of the day was the face-to-face conversations. “As big as it [Andy’s Man Club] is now, I’m still about the grass roots,” Luke says. “Too many people get bogged down with the big stuff – I think the little stuff is the big stuff. The conversations in the street are what makes a man want to come to the club, because he’s seen you and knows that it’s real.”
The sense of it being ‘real’ is greatly helped by club attendees being at the frontline of spreading the word about Andy’s Man Club – an achievement that isn’t lost on Luke. “What’s lovely is that all the guys who came out on tour, they’ve all walked through those meeting doors in need at one time, and now they are facilitators. It’s unbelievable.”
Each time I speak with Luke I’m blown away by his energy, drive and generosity of spirit – but mostly by his ability to be completely honest and unfiltered about his work, and personal life.
Luke is passionate about making positive change, having worked on himself after a childhood in which he often felt like he had to “be fake” to fit in. Later, he had a career in professional rugby where he says there was still an element of pretence in how he presented himself and interacted with others.
Change happened for Luke – before the creation of Andy’s Man Club, but after some dark times following the end of his rugby career, which resulted in him being arrested after a night out. But it was the beginning of a new path for Luke; one which came with a shift in perspective and the will to embrace who he authentically is. It was a process that took time and effort.
I think we all need to put in effort to be the best version of ourselves, rather than trying to beat someone else
Working at life every day is something Luke strongly advocates, stemming from his own experiences. And he has concerns lately, for what he calls, our “microwave society”.
“The problem is that a lot of people want everything ‘now’. We get everything so instantly – fast food, fast relationships – almost everything you want at the touch of an app,” he suggests. “And for some people, if they have to really work at getting what they need, they struggle.
“If you do what is easy though, life will be hard. If you do what is hard, life will be easy,” he continues. “Take parenting. Sometimes you might have to sit with your kid when they are kicking off at the dinner table to show them how they should behave. It would be easier to just give them a tablet to play with, to keep them quiet and busy, but in the long-term they won’t learn. I think that approach of really having to work at it applies to most of life’s challenges.”
Parenting and family dynamics are often woven into Luke’s insights on self-development, and it’s clear his family are solidly at the heart of his life and future aspirations.
Travel is one of these, and Luke’s latest project is the overhaul of a van, turning it into a campervan so he can explore the world with his wife, Lisa, and children, Alfie, Aubrey and Ada.
Spending time together as a family is important to him, but the project also serves another purpose – to support Luke’s own wellbeing. “With everything I do – the mental health work, suicide prevention, mindset development – as much as it’s all good, I felt like I needed something for me. After retiring from rugby, I didn’t have that outlet anymore.”
This project has been a long-term dream for Luke, but was put on hold when his third child, daughter Ada, came along. However, while taking part in a gruelling Ultra Marathon (100 miles in two days) earlier this year, he travelled and slept in a camper van, and says the experience “gave [him] that little itch again”.
“We’re in a world where we’re constantly bombarded with information, and I just want to get away from it all, and back to basics,” Luke says.
“It’s hard to get this across on social media, but I constantly flit between roles in my life – and so the idea of just being able to stop and say, ‘I fancy going to the Lake District tonight,’ and getting in the van with my wife and kids is really appealing. Going off grid.”
It’s understandable that Luke would need to create some unscheduled time and space for himself and his family within their life. With the diverse work he does, and the array of professional responsibilities he has, managing his own mental health needs is crucial.
“Self-awareness is so important,” he explains. “I went through a weird patch recently. As a motivational speaker, I found I suddenly didn’t have a lot of motivation. I felt like I’d spent my whole life trying to prove people wrong – and I’d done that. Everything I said I was going to do, I did. I was left with the thought of: ‘Well, what’s next?’
“So I’m now working on balance – being a good dad, being a good charity chairman, and everything else – and I feel like I’ve found it.”
Luke’s certainly not one to rest on his laurels though. “I’m constantly testing myself and challenging myself to be better,” he adds. “I think we all need to put in effort to be the best version of ourselves, rather than trying to beat someone else, then we’d all live better lives.”
And he doesn’t believe this starts with looking inwards – he insists it’s about working inwards. The Ultra Marathon earlier this year, he says, helped him to do this. “Once you test yourself mentally, you know what you’re capable of. So doing that run and knowing I can come through that, it’s become an analogy for life for me. I know I can handle that – and any other curve ball life sends me.
“It doesn’t mean I’ll find it easy – I didn’t find the run easy – but I know that I can get through the tough stuff.”
To read more and find a club near you, visit andysmanclub.co.uk
Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeambleruk