A MUCH-LOVED youth leader is retiring after six decades of bringing fun and learning to youngsters

Alma Wilson has been captain of Red Lane United Reformed Church’s Pilots group since its very beginning.

But after working with generations of children, the inspirational great-grandmother has finally decided to step down.

The 82-year-old began the group for youngsters in 1957, when the church was still based at Blackshaw House, off Foster Lane.

She said: “While we were in the old house some of the girls coming on Sundays asked if they could come during the week.

“I said ‘What do you want to do?’ and they said ‘Can we draw?’ and ‘Can we sew?’ — there were no mobile phones or things like that. And there was nothing on the estate for them, just houses and a few shops.

“So that was it, we started meeting and, of course, the boys said ‘Can we come, too?' I had heard of Pilots in the Congregationalist Church, sent for some information – and that’s how we got started.”

Pilots’ sessions over the years have included games, learning about countries all over the world and prayers — as well as holidays in places such as Barnstondale, on the Wirral.

Mrs Wilson said: “I’ve really enjoyed it and found it very rewarding. It’s great to work with kids, it really is, and to give them a little look at the faith, as Pilots is definitely a church organisation. Our promise says ‘I will learn, pray and serve’. That sounds a bit boring, but I can assure you it’s not.”

Generations of Pilots still remember Alma fondly — as she found out when she announced her retirement. Former members put notes in her Christmas cards.

She said: “I’ve had some lovely cards back saying how much they loved Pilots and appreciated what it did for them as youngsters.”

One from Shirley McClaren said: “I loved being a Pilot and have very, very happy memories”, while Pam Kelly sent a letter which said: “You will be very much missed, I’m sure I can speak for all the children you have mentored and taught throughout 60 years”. About 80 current Pilots and wellwishers attended a party to mark Alma’s retirement at the church. But while she is standing down as Pilots captain, the tireless pensioner is still continuing with her role as church leader.