Meet Nicky Nicholls

Nicky Nicholls is an artist from Croydon who survived a London paedophile ring and spent 36 years homeless.

A woman who was abandoned at just ten days old outside Stoke City football ground and went on to survive a London paedophile ring recently opened an art exhibition in Croydon – the place she found her first home aged 54.

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By Polly Albany-Ward courtesy of Croydon Advertiser

Nicky Nicholls, of Fisher Close in Addiscombe, suffered physical and sexual abuse as a child and found herself in the Edgeware Road ring aged just six.

The 70-year-old was rescued from the ring by police at 14, but after a failed attempt to join the army at 18, Nicky spent 36 years homeless and in and out of institutions – until she came to Croydon in 1999. That year, Nicky first spoke about her experiences in a group therapy session at the Bethlem hospital.

‘It was terrifying, I thought they would beat me up.’ Nicky said. ‘But they gave me a piece of paper and said ‘draw your feelings’, and I discovered I could draw.’

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Traumatised by the abuse she had experienced, Nicky said she had a nervous breakdown after sharing her experiences. In the same year, Croydon Council granted Nicky homeless refuge and she moved into her first permanent home, an empty council flat, as well as joining Alcoholics Anonymous. Nicky has been sober ever since.

‘I didn’t know how to run a house or what to do so they got me care. They told me I needed to get a kettle and cups and I said what for? So I got a homeless kitten instead and called him Charlie. We lay on the floorboards of the empty flat on half a blanket, and I looked up and said, ‘Charlie, we’ve got a ceiling’.

‘I couldn’t believe we had a ceiling of our own. I was so excited, me and Charlie used to walk up and down the corridor, out of one room and into another saying ‘this is ours’.’

It was then Nicky discovered that as well as artistic talent she has likes and dislikes, including classical music and architecture, she said. Nicky worked with pastel on paper until five years ago when she started painting on canvas, using her fingers because she is disabled. She has had paintings hung in Southwark Cathedral and Hever Castle.

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‘I paint with my feelings and most of it is from the past,” she said. “The message is trust because I didn’t trust anybody.’

Nicky said she has never grown up because she never had a childhood. ‘If you look in the pictures at the girl with pigtails – that’s me. I won’t grow up,’ she said.

Nicky, who has been given a council pension, gives all proceeds from her work to charity.

‘Having a pension was like winning the lottery, I don’t need any more,’ she said. ‘I can’t explain to anyone how it feels, knowing that if I want food I can go out and buy it. I was never able to give anything to anyone, but now I can give and that’s what I want – to be a part of society and belong.’

And Nicky said life now is lovely. ‘I have beautiful friends I call my little family. I’m just really, really grateful to everyone,’ she said. ‘Especially Croydon Council, because without their help I couldn’t have done this. They have been by my side from the beginning.’

Connect with Nicky Nicholls

nickynicholls.com

twitter.com/nichollsnicky

Gallery images by David Cook

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