East of England Co-op boss Minnie Moll tells of childhood sexual abuse as she becomes Fresh Start – New Beginnings ambassador

Minnie Moll, joint chief executive of the East of England Co-op, who has spoken for the first time o

Minnie Moll, joint chief executive of the East of England Co-op, who has spoken for the first time of how she was abused in her childhood. She has now become an ambassador for the charity Fresh Start New Beginnings. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

Minnie Moll, joint chief executive of the East of England Co-op, is one of the region’s most influential business leaders. As she is named as the new ambassador of sexual abuse charity Fresh Start – New Beginnings, she reveals her own story of childhood abuse, in her own words:

I grew up on a Thames Barge at Pin Mill in Suffolk.

It was an idyllic childhood of sailing, playing in the river and the mud and feeling proud of being different, by not living in a house like everyone else. I had loving parents and two bothers and I’d say we were generally a very happy family.

The man who sexually abused me was called Alfie and lived on the barge with us. On a barge there is a room in the bow called the foc’sle. It was self-contained and had its own entrance. That’s where he lived.

My father often ‘adopted’ people that were interested in barges and would help him during the summer on the other sailing barges we owned. Alfie was one such person and didn’t have anywhere to live, so mum and pop let him have the foc’sle. In return he helped with the barges and odd jobs and sometimes drove us to and from school. My family trusted him and treated him as extended family.

I don’t know exactly how long the abuse went on for. My best guess is that I was between eight and 10 years old. It was certainly for at least a year.

He started asking me to go to the foc’sle to show me things. He always had sweets, he could do some magic tricks and he told jokes and created games. He said nice things to me and told me I was special.

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I think he probably took opportunities when he was looking after us and my parents were not there, but what is shocking, on reflection, is the risk he took by doing this in our home.

I don’t remember Alfie making any specific threats to make sure I didn’t tell my parents. What I am certain of is that he used manipulation to make sure I didn’t.

Minnie says she had an otherwise great childhood growing up on a boat. Picture: SUPPLIED

Minnie says she had an otherwise great childhood growing up on a boat. Picture: SUPPLIED - Credit: Archant

I knew it was wrong, I felt trapped, anxious and unhappy. As a result of bottling it all up, when I was about 10, I started having dreadful stomach pains. Doctors thought it might be colic but couldn’t find anything wrong.

When I had attacks, I would be doubled up in pain. My primary school teacher was briefed to put me over her lap and stroke my back to ease it. I ended up being admitted to Ipswich Hospital for about two weeks. They did lots of tests and I remember doctors, nurses and my parents asking me if I had worries or anxieties about anything.

When I was discharged, I sat in the doctor’s office with my parents. He explained that the diagnosis was psychosomatic illness, caused by some sort of anxiety. Lots of kind people had tried to get me to open up but I didn’t say a word about what had happened to me.

Alfie died from tuberculosis in Ipswich Hospital when I was about 11 years old. I can’t remember if it stopped before he died or because he died.

What I remember is everyone being sad but I felt relief – and yet guilty about that. We all had to go in to the hospital several times for blood tests because of the tuberculosis. I think it’s why I hate injections so much.

Even after Alfie had died and he couldn’t do anything about it, I didn’t tell anyone. I think it was such a mixture of feelings; shame, guilt, fear of what people would think, fear of the hurt my parents would feel. Believing that in some way it was my fault. And not sure that people would believe what I told them. Overall I think I just did not want to say out loud what he had done to me.

When I considered telling my parents when I was older, I felt I would be destroying their image of someone they had trusted – disrupting their lives needlessly.

If I kept it to myself, no one would be hurt by it, no one would have to deal with something awkward and ugly. It was over and no one needed to know.

Pop died without ever knowing and I finally told mum a few years before she died. She was so shocked and said Pop would have killed Alfie had he ever found out. I know she felt horrified, so angry and guilty that somehow she should have known. Of course it was not her fault in any way but her natural instinct to protect her child made her feel so helpless, all that time after the event.

Over time I feel that I have mended myself. I didn’t ever seek help about it, which is frankly stupid of me, as it could have helped so much. Years ago I visited a hypnotherapist for help to stop smoking. During the session I ended up in floods of tears… and it all came tumbling out. The hypnotherapist helped me to do something that I think I needed to do. I finally forgave the nine-year-old me. Absolved her of all guilt and reassured her that nothing was her fault. That shouldn’t be necessary but it was and I felt it was an important step for me.

What is so wicked is the abuse of the trust, vulnerability and naivety of a child. The manipulation that leaves them feeling they are in some way to blame.

The point for me really becoming free was the understanding and deep belief that it was not my fault. I have nothing to feel ashamed or guilty of. All the shame, guilt and fault lies with the perpetrator.

The support that Fresh Start provides could have helped me so much and I could have worked through things so much more quickly.

I know that in comparison to what some other people have suffered, my experience will be very mild. I had such a glorious childhood otherwise and a wonderful, loving family. I have no doubt that helped me to move on. I have so much to be grateful for and I have gone on to have a blessed life. I feel the luckiest person.

It is something that happened to me. It doesn’t define me.

A very wise friend talks about the rocks we all carry. We all have them. The trick is to turn the rocks into rocket fuel. It gives you your power back.

I feel that becoming an Ambassador for Fresh Start is my opportunity to turn this particular rock into rocket fuel.

If telling my story can help anyone, it is there for the telling.

If I can support anyone by having some shared experience and empathy for how they may feel, then it will be so rewarding to do so.

How you can help Fresh Starts – New Beginnings

Fresh Start – New Beginnings supports the victims of child sex abuse. In just five years, the charity has supported over 900 children in the county.

If any individuals, businesses or groups want to offer support, call Patsy Johnson-Cisse on 01473 705111.

Alternatively, the charity would love support to source the following items:

• A shed.

• Plastic storage boxes.

• Camping tables and chairs, three of each.

• Arts and crafts materials.

• Display boards.

• 22in or 24in monitors x 2.

• Ipads or similar tablets x 5 to use with girls groups,

• Volunteers, fundraising admin, events, friends groups.

You can follow the charity on Facebook and Twitter.

If you are a child and need support, call Fresh Start on 01473 353355.

For adults, call Survivors in Transition on 01473 232499.

Historic child sex abuse cases more than double in a year in Suffolk.