A PENSIONER who has devoted his life to the Salvation Army is devastated a branch is closing after 118 years.
Andrew Nelmes has been a devoted member of Penshaw Salvation Army since he moved to the village at the age of nine.
Now, after spending the last 28 years heading the division, the 83-year-old is shocked that the division is to close its doors after he was forced to retire from his post due to ill health.
With no one to take over, bosses have been forced to close the church.
Mr Nelmes, of Clydesdale Avenue, Penshaw, said: “It’s a very, very sad day for me and I’m not happy at all that it has to close but there’s nothing that can be done.”
Mr Nelmes slipped in the snow at Christmas, breaking his wrist and pelvis. He went on to develop deep vein thrombosis and other illnesses.
Although his health is improving, he feels it is finally time for him to give up the role.
He said: “It was a difficult decision for me to make and I feel like I’m letting people down.
“I wish there was someone to take over.”
A decline in membership, with the division boasting just eight members, is to blame for the closure, with many members in ill health.
“Over the years, we’ve held many events, including Sunday school, junior clubs and events for teenagers.
“I’ve got many fond memories from over the years and I’ve made many friendships.
“I think mostly it’s the people that I’m going to miss. I used to go round the public houses and clubs every Saturday and everyone was so generous.”
The division is officially due to close its doors today, with the Front Street East building where Mr Nelmes and his wife Florence married in 1950 – the first to marry at the site – going on sale.
“It’s a real shame,” he said. “The Salvation Army has been my life and still is my life. I just want to thank everyone for all their support.
“I will still be working with Churches Together and will be involved in the community if anyone wants me.”