A NEW initiative to help ex-offenders gain skills and get into work has celebrated a landmark as its first trainee graduates from the scheme.

The project, which is run by Yacro and community interest company Get Cycling, sees people train as bike mechanics and get help to find paid work, as part of community sentences handed down by the courts and administered by the probation service.

The project held an open day on Friday to mark the graduation of its first cohort of trainees, and among them was 31-year-old Lee Bainbridge.

He said: "I have always liked working with my hands, and I have always messed around with bikes but here I have learnt things as well.

"We have taken bikes fully apart and laced up wheels, which is quite complicated."

Now he has finished the eight-week training course Lee plans to go back to the project for two days a week as a volunteer, and even hopes to join Get Cycling's roadshows around the country.

The scheme has helped his outlook as well as his skills, Lee added.

"My family will be really proud of this. This kind of thing really helps with motivation."

The project is funded by the European Social Fund, which has given cash to rent an industrial unit for a year, while the equipment and bike mechanic expertise has come from Get Cycling and other support fromYacro, the probation service and City of York Council's York Learning scheme.

People are referred by the Probation Service, and over the year, the plan is to see 35 former offenders pass through the scheme.

They will work on Get Cycling's specialist disability bikes as well as mainstream bikes and at the end of the scheme each graduate is given a bike they have worked on to take away.

Now the organisations are appealing for donations of unwanted bikes which can be serviced and reconditioned in the workshop.

Yacro's Michael Pavlovic said: "Eventually, we hope to be able to recondition old bikes then provide them to people who are disabled or on very low incomes."

To donate an unwanted bike, contact Get Cycling through the website www.getcycling.org.uk or on 01904 636812.