A lady is set to marry the tramp she fell in love with when she found him – rifling through her BIN.
Kind-hearted Joan Neininger, 88, took pity on former down and out Ken Selway, 89, when she saw him ferreting in the trash for food outside her book shop.
She started to drop in packets of lovingly wrapped sandwiches for Ken and over the the years the couple grew close as she helped him overcome his many demons.
Joan says she never thought she could fall for a tramp – but after reading a book on the subject of homelessness she changed her mind.
And their extraordinary love story which began in Spring 1975 is set for a long-awaited happy ending when they tie the knot at a registry office next month.
Ken had become friendly with Joan and her husband but following his death the pair started a romance.
She said: “When I saw him ferreting through the bins outside a fish and chip shop near my bookshop, I never thought for a minute it would end like this.
“But although he was living on the streets, I knew straight away that Ken was a lovely man with a beautiful soul.”
Joan said from their first meeting she always felt Ken was different to the other tramps who drank heavily.
She spent years battling with Ken’s schizophrenia before proposing during the 2016 leap year.
They will now become husband and wife on Joan’s birthday, four days after Valentine’s Day at Cinderford registry office.
Joan says that when she first saw Ken he was smartly dressed and drunk only milk so she presumed he was staying in a B&B and just had nowhere to go out in the day.
But she said that after reading Down and Out in Britain by Jeremy Sandford, she realised he could be one of the many ordinary people slipping through the welfare state safety net.
Joan added: “The man haunted me like a spectre and, It was dreadful to see him slowly deteriorate.
“The first time I saw him searching for food in a rubbish bin, I silently broke my heart.”
She began leaving the sandwiches in the bin for him because he would not take any money and eventually, with the blessing of her then husband Norman, she invited Ken in for a meal.
For a long time he refused all offers of help and money, but he eventually opened up about his own life.
He revealed he had been born in London and had been evacuated to Wales where he became a Bevin Boy.
When the Welsh man he regarded as a father died, he returned home but his mother could not cope with his mental health problems.
After being made homeless, Ken slept in railway stations and shop doorways until he came to Gloucester looking for relatives of his evacuee father and stumbled across a derelict house to sleep in at night.
His only belongings at the time were a set of clean clothes, a radio, a fossil he once mined and a few personal pieces that he kept in a hidey hole behind a brick in a wall.
He frequently considered suicide, but Joan said she spotted an “innate dignity and a measured way of speaking” that made her realise he was from an educated family.
Over the next few years Ken came in and out of the family’s life but caring for him took a toll on Joan’s 30-year marriage.
At one point Norman issued an ultimatum and she moved out into a caravan which Ken would come and stay at.
At first they were happy but Ken’s mental health problems made him unpredictable and he could fly off the handle.
Joan, who went on to become a mental health campaigner, said: “People with schizophrenia are imprisoned by the voices.
“Ken believed everything these voices were telling him so it was very difficult to have a relationship. I did not know anything about it but I soon learned.”
Because of Ken’s illness, the couple’s relationship has always been celibate – but Joan believes this has made them even closer.
And this meant that for several decades Joan, Ken and Norman all lived happily together.
Joan added: “I married at 16 and Norman was a wonderful man and a lovely husband and father.
“Because there was no sexual jealousy it was fine and Ken and Norman were like brothers. It was like a little paradise, just Ken, Norman and me.”
After Norman died of a heart attack, Ken developed health problems which meant he eventually had to move into Hanover Court in Cinderford, where he was later joined by Joan.
Now everybody there says they can not wait for their wedding.
Joan added: “People say I saved Ken. But it was actually Jeremy Sandford’s book that made me look twice at the men sleeping rough and see him as the person he was.
“The sad thing is that it’s still happening today, in fact it’s getting worse.”
Ken’s state of mind has has changed dramatically since he started to get help and the voices have disappeared.
He said: “When I met Joan I was sleeping rough and wanted to kill myself.
“I probably would not be here now if wasn’t for her leaving those sandwiches in the bin. She’s a really kind person.”