Nigel Hollins: An impact beyond all words

After Nigel was viciously mugged walking to his parent’s house one mother’s day, the policeman who visited wasn’t hopeful. “Nigel won’t be a good witness,” he told Nigel’s sister, “He won’t understand what goes on in court. That means we won’t get a conviction. And for that reason I don’t think the Crown Prosecution Service will even press charges.”

At that Nigel left the room and returned with a book. A picture book. A picture book called ‘Going to Court.’ Sitting with the book beside the policeman, Nigel was able to show that he did, in fact, have a perfectly good understanding of what would happen in court. Of course he did; he’d been on the book’s editorial team.

To cut a long story short, the policeman was impressed, and so were the CPS, the judge and the jury. One of Nigel’s attackers got six years. The other got four. All thanks to a picture book.

The publisher, “Beyond Words,” is a charity founded by Nigel and mum Sheila. Its first title, “When Dad Died,” was drawn to explain loss and grief to people who do not use words to communicate and those for whom words are a barrier to effective communication. Another title, “Mugged,” visualises Nigel’s own attack as a way of helping people to come to terms with their personal experiences.

Since then literally dozens of picture books have been added to the collection. With titles like “Feeling cross and sorting it out,” “A refugee’s story,” and “Loving each other safely,” the books are uncompromising. Each deals candidly and graphically with very difficult issues and guides viewers in ways to respond positively.

Nigel vets the pictures. They have to tell the right story, set the right tone, be accessible to people with wide ranging abilities.

Sometimes Nigel uses the books as a training aid. “Going to the doctor” forms part of Dimensions’ #MyGPandMe training resources for GP surgery staff; Nigel delivered that pilot training to his local surgery.

The beauty of a picture book is that everyone is free to interpret the pictures in different ways. And that makes it perfect for a book club.

Nigel’s book club

Nigel doesn’t just run a book club – which survived even through Covid – he guides others in how to run their own. Nigel is a huge advocate for the power of picture books to discuss shared experiences with friends and so to make things better – together. Nigel loves it when people’s eyes light up as they realise they’ve just been listened to – sometimes for the first time.

And really, that’s why Nigel’s place on the Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List matters. Not just as a means of honouring Nigel’s many achievements but to help the thousands of people for whom words are a barrier to communication, to share in the power of pictures.

For your courage, your determination and your energy – Nigel, you’re a very worthy winner. Congratulations. We hope many more people discover your wonderful books.