THOUSANDS of people in Newport are being encouraged to turn their life around - just like former criminal Barry Williams.

Mr Williams, known as Baz, managed to do just that thanks to the RISE campaign, which aims to teach people new skills and officially launches on Friday.

The 42-year-old from Pill slept rough for ten years and spent three spells in prison for fighting.

But then he discovered his artistic talent, thanks to a course at the RISE centre on George Street.

Now Mr Williams, who is staying at Solas homeless hostel, Stow Hill, has turned his back on crime and developed a passion for drawing.

He is putting together a portfolio with the aim of going to art college.

The RISE campaign aims to encourage 8,000 people back into education by offering a variety of vocational and academic courses .

There will be 52 RISE centres across the city, based in libraries, schools and community centres, where courses ranging from accountancy to woodwork are available.

The idea is that people, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, can easily drop in and learn in a relaxed atmosphere.

The scheme, already operating in Torfaen, Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly and Monmouthshire, was prompted by the closure of Llanwern steelworks at in 2003.

It is an Assembly initiative which aims to regenerate the area. The £1.25mused to set up the RISE project in Newport is funded by post-steel cuts recovery cash, from the Assembly and the European Social Fund. Friday's launch will take place at Pill Millennium Centre, Court-y-Bella Terrace, Newport, from 12 noon to 2pm, when those who have completed courses will be on hand to chat to visitors.

Most of the courses are part-time and range from six to 12 weeks in length. There will be 1,200 courses offered over the next year.

Newport City Council, part of the RISE Partnership, has teamed up with Newport Bus for a 'Ticket to RISE' campaign.

Special tickets will be available on 85 city buses. Those who take them to their neighbourhood RISE centre could win one of more than 200 hot air balloon flights on offer. To learn more about courses on offer or to find out the centre nearest you, log on to