HE is known as the friendly Salvation Army man who likes to chat to people in Alton Sainsburys on Tuesdays and Fridays with a ready smile, and offer a hug when one is needed, but this is only one small part of the service this dedicated man has given to the ministry.

In 30 years since Mjor Neil Woollacott first became a solider he has encountered every aspect of human life, much of it helping

alcoholics, drug addicts, the

depressed or those just wanting to talk about problems they are facing such as family and money worries.

Throughout he has worked with his wife Susan, also a major, who retired in 2009, the last 10 years in Alton based at Salvation Army Citadel in Amery Street. He said his goodbyes to the town when he retired after taking his final service last month.

It will be a sad goodbye both for Neil and Susan and his congregation and he would love to stay in the town but, he admitted: “But we can’t afford to buy a property here.”As ministers in the Salvation Army they were given a house but have to pay the expenses of running it and give it back when they leave.”

In fact Neil gave up a lucrative job in the car industry to rejoin the Army and later train to be a minister in his twenties, after “coming away” from the church for seven years.

Born in London but raised in Paisley, Scotland, both his parents were members of the Salvation Army and Neil grew up in the church and played in the band often doing cornet duets with his dad.

At 19 he drifted away from the church but was brought back by music when, while working for Chrysler in Dunstable, he was invited to attend a Salvation Army concert and enjoyed the music and decided he wanted to part of the ministry again.

Unknown to him he had also met his future wife, a member of a Salvation Army family who was at the concert – they began “courting” after Neil became a lunch guest. “We met on April 19, 1981, and married a year later on April 18 – we didn’t hang around,” he laughed.