THERE were extraordinary scenes in Bournemouth as a community united to show its respect and love for Big Issue seller Ralph Millward.

Hundreds of people gathered outside Marks & Spencer in Westbourne – where a roadside shrine of flowers and tributes has grown up near where Ralph’s body was found on May 8 – and lined the main route to the church where a thanksgiving service was held.

Resident Ken Tilt recalled that it would have been Ralph’s birthday on June 1: “I always gave him a card and £20.”

Another resident, Margaret Halford, used to buy him a sandwich every morning. “I’m going to miss him,” she said.

Cindy Mann from Waggy Tails, remembered collecting money for the animal rescue charity alongside Ralph: “We used to give him some money.

“He would go around the corner and get us a cup of coffee with it.”

Scenes at the Westbourne procession and inside the West Cliff Baptist Church remembrance service

Rianna Moreau, who met Ralph when she was homeless, said: “He saw me through it and I did the same with him.

“He called me his little sister. It feels like I’ve lost a member of my family.

“He would be amazed by this and the amount of respect being shown. The number of times he said to me he didn’t have any friends.”

As a trumpeter struck up Abide With Me, police stopped the traffic so the procession could make its way to West Cliff Baptist Church.

The church was packed with people from all walks of life, from silver-haired matrons to the homeless.

Ralph’s elderly father and some of his old schoolfriends from the Midlands were there.

There were even a couple of dogs.

The service started sombrely as the Rev Richard Burfoot spoke of the violent end to Ralph’s life, but among the hymns and prayers were tears, laughter, shouted comments, applause – and even the occasional swear word.

The Rev Chris Brockway called Ralph “a man who touched the hearts of many in our local community”, adding: “In spite of his battles and struggles with life, he was always concerned about how you were.”

He recalled how Ralph would be outside Marks & Spencer in all weathers.

“If he wasn’t on his pitch, he would normally be between there and the Big Issue office with his head in a book.

“He was the only man I know who could walk and read and not knock himself out.

“Ralph was a man who made time to care deeply. In living and in dying, he has shaped a community.

“What a great, great man he was.”

Big Issue founder, John Bird, spoke of Ralph’s violent death and added: “Ralph has had to teach us a lesson and for that he gave his life.”

Others from Ralph’s “street family” recalled his kindness. “He was like an uncle to me,” said one young man. Another pleaded: “We’re all the same. Understand us: we’re just people.”

And another man who shared a car, then a tent with Ralph for four years, recalled: “He was argumentative, annoying, brilliant, the best friend I ever had in my life.”

After the service, there were queues to sign a book of condolence and a collection was made for the church’s work with homeless people.

More pictures inside Thursday's Daily Echo (May 21)