Widow to marry homeless man who used to rummage through bins outside her shop for food
A woman is set to marry a former homeless man she fell in love with after striking up a friendship when she found him rifling through a bin.
Joan Neininger (88) took pity on 89-year-old Ken Selway when she saw him looking for food outside her bookshop while he lived on the streets.
She started to make him sandwiches and, over the the years, the couple grew close as she helped him overcome his many demons.
The couple's love story, which began in spring 1975, will now have a happy ending when they tie the knot at a registry office next month.
Mr Selway had become friendly with Ms Neininger and her then husband, but following Mr Neininger's death, the pair started a romance.
Ms Neininger, a great-grandmother with three children, lives with her husband-to-be at a residential home in Gloucester.
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."
Ms Neininger said that from their first meeting, she always felt Mr Selway was different. She spent years battling with Mr Selway's schizophrenia before proposing last year.
They will now become husband and wife on Ms Neininger's birthday, four days after Valentine's Day, at Cinderford registry office.
She said that when she first saw Mr Selway he was smartly dressed and drank only milk so she presumed he was staying in a B&B and just had nowhere to go during the day.
But she said that after reading Down and Out in Britain by Jeremy Sandford, she realised that he could be one of the many people slipping through the welfare state safety net.
Ms Neininger added: "The first time I saw him searching for food in a rubbish bin, I silently broke my heart."
She began leaving 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 Mr Selway in for a meal.
For a long time, Mr Selway refused all offers of help and money, but he eventually opened up about his own life. He revealed that he had been born in London and had been evacuated to Wales.
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, Mr Selway slept in railway stations and shop doorways until he went 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 hid behind a wall.
He frequently considered suicide, but Ms Neininger 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, Mr Selway came in and out of the family's life, but caring for him took a toll on Ms Neininger's 30-year marriage.
At one point, Mr Neininger issued an ultimatum and she moved out into a caravan which Mr Selway would come and stay at.
At first they were happy, but Mr Selway's mental health problems made him unpredictable and he could "fly off the handle".
Ms Neininger, 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 Mr Selway's illness, the couple's relationship has always been celibate, but Ms Neininger believes this has made them even closer.
And this meant that for several decades Mr Selway and the Neiningers all lived happily together.
Ms Neininger 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 Mr Neininger died of a heart attack, Mr Selway developed health problems that meant he eventually had to move into a residential home, where he was later joined by Joan.