ONE of Britain's most dedicated charity workers is retiring after saving thousands of animals over the last 50 years  - and has vowed to carry on volunteering for free.

Neil Edwards, 67, is one of the country's longest-serving charity workers after spending half a century at the Blue Cross where he began as a teenager in 1974.

During that time, he has rescued or rehomed tens of thousands of sick and abandoned animals- including dogs, cats, horses, birds, foxes, tortoises and even a bat. 

He first asked the animal charity for work experience as a 13-year-old boy and began volunteering at the UK's first-ever animal hospital in Victoria, London at 15.

Neil then worked his way up from a porter to a Blue Cross ambulance service 'paramedic' and finally to centre manager of their branch in Bromsgrove, Worcs.

The dad-of-three is officially retiring from his role today (Fri) after five decades dedicating his life to animal welfare - but said he'll carry on working for free. 

Neil said: "I've always wanted to work with animals and told my careers officer that even as a teenage boy.  

"In the end I basically left school on the Friday and started at the Blue Cross on the Tuesday - and I've been here ever since. 

"I had written around to a few charities and only the Blue Cross replied. It was literally like start at the bottom and work your way up. 

"It has been a lifetime of work but I like animals, obviously. I think I have an affinity with them. They bring so much pleasure.

"They give you everything and are there for you even if you’re in a bad mood. You can also rehome an animal to someone and change their lives. 

"I don’t look at it as a job. It’s just lovely and it’s always been thoroughly enjoyable."

Neil moved up from Merton, South London, with his wife Avril to set up the Bromsgrove rehoming centre in 1986.

Archive photo of Neil at Bromsgrove Adoption CentreArchive photo of Neil at Bromsgrove Adoption Centre (Image: SWNS)

He transformed an old boarding kennels into a six acre multi-million pound community facility with a team of 18 and approximately a 150 volunteers.

Neil and Avril still live on site at the centre with their three-legged Blue Cross dog named Freddie where they also brought up their three children. 

Neil added: “I started off at the animal hospital in London learning sort of the nursing side and helping the vets and with operations. 

"Then I did a bit of van driving helping pick up pets. Then I was doing night work at the hospital, in charge of it on my own. 

“Then a lady died in Kidderminster, who used to work with Blue Cross, and left money in her will with the stipulation we provided something in the Midlands. 

"They said would we mind going up there and managing a centre and I said alright then, I'll do it. 

“We moved up here in 1986. We’ve made lots of friends and the children only know here as their home now.

“People ask what's your highlight and it’s so hard as no two days are the same, there’s always something cropping up. 

"I think my proudest moment is being able to establish the centre from scratch and now leave it in capable hands with a team that has grown up around me too.

"It was a hard decision to retire but I’ll still be volunteering for a couple of days a week. I want to still be around. I want to still help animals".