STEVE Tracey and Luke Thomas hold up their hands to having been bad boys in the past.

But now they are making up for their sins by recycling household goods to help poverty-stricken individuals and families - while also providing work experience for offenders trying to go straight, as well as for people on the dole, who are referred by local Job Centres.

Ex-convict Mr Tracey, aged 49, of Dudley - who confesses to having once been "hired muscle" for a dangerous gang - set up Good News Recycling, a limited company which supports the local charity Christians in Action (CIA).

"I'd done so many bad things I wanted to turn my life around and say 'sorry'," he said.

The enterprise now operates from premises in Stallings Lane, Kingswinford, because it had to flee its previous base on the Thornleigh Estate, Dudley, where it was known as the Genesis project, after falling prey to burglars numerous times.

The company, which supplies free household goods to vulnerable people setting up home, was at risk of folding due to becoming a target of crime - but was saved three months ago when businessman Gary Hawkins offered the Stallings Lane site to Mr Tracey for rent at a third of the normal commercial rate.

Property developer Mr Thomas, aged 36, of Fens Crescent, Pensnett, who also owns up to having fallen foul of the law in years gone by, donated around £10,000 cash into renovating the Stallings Lane site for its charitable role and a further £15,000 worth of vehicles to help with the collection of household goods.

He now helps Mr Tracey to run Good News Recycling, which has linked up with Dudley Police's Offender Management Team to give people trying to turn their lives around a chance to use their skills to renovate furniture that can then be sold, some of it through the Born Again shop, run by Michael Ashman and Courtney Green in aid of CIA in Dudley Road, Brierley Hill.

Mr Tracey fell into a life of crime in the early 1990s when he ran a door security agency for nightclubs in Birmingham and Walsall, culminating in a terrifying car chase along the M1, during which he fired a hand gun at the other vehicle.

The escapade landed him with a 12-month prison sentence for firearms offences and violent disorder.

But his life turned around after the birth of his son, Harvey, 12 years ago.

"I didn't want him to end up like me," said Mr Tracey, who lives by "sofa surfing" around the homes of friends, spending several days a week with his son in Dudley.

"At the time I was on the run and living in fear for my life and then one day I answered the door - a can of beer in one hand and a spliff in the other - to a politician, who got his wife to ring me.

"The phone call lasted about four hours, during which I confessed everything and she asked me if I knew the Lord Jesus.

"Eventually I fell to my knees and felt the holy spirit come over me.

"Later I became a scrap man but when I found how much was being thrown away and wasted I offered some of it to the Brierley Hill Project, which helps vulnerable families.

"Then, two years ago, I started running my own scheme, supplying the Brierley Hill Project and other charities for the homeless and vulnerable - and I get a buzz out of helping other people."

Mr Thomas said: "I got into a bit of bother when I was younger, so come from the same side of the street as some of the people we are now helping at Good News Recycling."

Sgt Andy Springthorpe, of Dudley Offender Management Team, praised the initiative, saying it was a valuable way of helping people who had been released from prison or who were prolific offenders to raise their self-esteem, learn the "work ethic" and achieve a reference which could enable them to get a job.

"It's a really good method of stopping them from committing crime," he added.

Black Country magistrate Kelvin McGee, who reviews the performance of offenders after they have completed an eight-week programme with Good News Recycling to provide them with a reference to obtain future work, said: "I admire what Steve and Luke are doing - there are not many who will give offenders a chance like they do.

Anyone who wants to donate unwanted furniture, household appliances or clothing to help vulnerable families can contact Good News Recycling on 01384 400596 or 07708 830576.

People on low incomes can also purchase items directly from Good News Recycling - and Mr Tracey said: "You can kit out a whole house for £200 - sofas for a tenner, beds a tenner and so on - and the money raised goes back into keeping the place running and helping people who have absolutely nothing."