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BRADSHAW - AND WOGAN - HAIL FREE SWIMMING SUCCESS

24 Jul 2009
New figures released today show that young people and senior citizens have taken the plunge more than 4.4 million times thanks to the Government’s £140m free swimming initiative – a key part of plans to ensure a lasting legacy from the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games by getting more people physically active.

More than a thousand local authority pools in England have been offering free swimming to 20 million people aged 16 and under, or 60 and over, since April – with more than 250 councils backing the scheme.

Today’s figures for the first three months of the scheme have been welcomed by the five Government departments funding the initiative, by swimming’s governing body and by the broadcaster Sir Terry Wogan, who has joined actor and comedian David Walliams in championing free swimming.

Young people took advantage of 2.8 million free swims in the scheme’s first three months, with 1.6 million visits to pools by senior citizens aged 60 and over. 

Ben Bradshaw, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, applauded the figures as proof of the scheme’s success:

“We never had any doubt that free swimming was going to make a splash – but it has shown itself to be an even bigger success with people, young and old, than we had ever expected.  This is a big idea that has fast become a big hit at pools all over the country.

“It shows how the Government is using London 2012 to give sport a real lift and working in partnership with local councils of all political persuasions to get more people more active. 

“This is proof of our commitment to securing long-term benefits from the Olympics and Paralympics – along with record investment in school sport and half a billion pounds now going to sports’ governing bodies to deliver schemes to increase participation.”

In total 259 councils are offering free swimming for people aged 60 and over, and 190 for young people aged 16 and under. Before the beginning of the free swimming initiative the number of local authorities offering any form of year-round free swimming was barely in double figures.

Health Secretary Andy Burnham said: "I'm thrilled the free swimming initiative is so popular with both young and older people. Getting moving in the water makes your whole body work that little bit harder than on dry land - so activity in the pool is a great way to get your active minutes."

Delyth Morgan, Children’s Minister at the Department for Children, Schools and Families, said: “It’s fantastic that our free swimming scheme has been so popular, with 2.8 million free visits by children to pools already, giving them the opportunity to hone their swimming skills, get fit and have fun without having to worry about the cost. I hope that many more children take advantage of the scheme, especially over the summer holidays, as this is a great way to build on the two hours of PE they receive at school.

“We want to encourage all children to take part in sport and physical activity outside school hours, whether they have a particular talent or just want to learn a new hobby. Hopefully the scheme will identify and nurture the Olympic and Paralympic winners of the future.”

Yvette Cooper, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said: "Swimming is a great way to keep fit and healthy in later life, and that's why DWP is backing this initiative with £22m so millions more can take the plunge." 

Communities Secretary John Denham said: "I am delighted that so many people are using the free swimming that so many councils are able to offer thanks to our funding.

"People are clear they want their councils to provide good recreational facilities and swimming is a popular pastime and great way to get fitter. I want to congratulate those councils that have taken the plunge and urge even more local residents to dive in and make the most of the offer of free swimming."

Tessa Jowell, Minister for the Olympics, said: "Today's figures are proof of the action we are taking to reach our target of persuading two million people to get more active by 2012; delivering a legacy of building a healthier, more active nation thanks to the London Olympic and Paralympic Games.

"Swimming is a great way to keep fit and with stars like Rebecca Adlington and Ellie Simmonds making waves in international competition and three years to go until London 2012 it's a great time for people to dig out their swim kit and head to their local pool."

The broadcaster Sir Terry Wogan, a keen swimmer, is championing the initiative: "Free swimming is a great idea that deserves to succeed, and can only do good. I am delighted to endorse it and am very pleased to hear that so many people have dived in and enjoyed the benefits,” he said.

The ASA, swimming’s governing body, is working with the Government and local councils to make the scheme an even bigger success.

Its Chief Executive, David Sparkes, said: “These figures show the power of swimming. They are outstanding results and demonstrate that the free swimming initiative can make a difference in making our nation more active and healthier. All the research pointed to a massive latent demand for swimming and this initiative seems to have put a light to the blue touch paper.

“We now need to keep this going by getting more people involved in swimming, having more fun together. I am delighted with the way the industry has reacted to this and we continue to work with them to make this the most successful initiative ever in getting people more active.”

Data about take-up for the scheme will be released every three months and its success in driving up participation in sport will be measured by separate research, including Sport England’s Active People survey later this year.

Richard Lewis, Sport England’s Chair, said: “Young and older people have seized the opportunity to swim for free, just as local authorities are making the most of the opportunity to enhance their facilities. Combined with the offer of free swimming lessons and a national network of county swimming co-ordinators, free swimming has a major role to play in getting more people enjoying this great sport on a regular basis.”

Key details of the scheme:

• Up to £40m was allocated for each of the financial years 2009-10 and 2010-11 for local councils to help meet the cost of providing free access to pools during standard swimming sessions;

• Councils that are providing free swimming for both age groups were allocated £10 million to improve their local facilities in 2008/09;

• A £50 million capital fund has been made available to councils to modernise existing facilities or help build new ones in 2009/10 and 2010/11;

• A national network of swimming experts has been recruited to work with participating councils to promote interest in swimming and increase participation;

• One hundred thousand free swimming lessons are being offered to non-swimmers;

• Extra funding within the overall funding package is being promised to participating councils, including as a reward to those with the best record in developing the scheme and making an impact in their communities;

• Local councils will be eligible to seek London 2012’s ‘Inspire’ mark, as recognition of the impact of their schemes in producing a lasting legacy from hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012;

• The initiative is guaranteed to run for at least two years – the period covered by the Government’s current spending review.

-ends-

Notes for editors
1. Further information on the free swimming initiative, including councils participating and their figures for the first quarter from April to June 2009, are available on the DCMS website at www.culture.gov.uk/freeswimming.

2. Data is available nationally, by region and by local authority – broken down by month and by age group. A small number of local authorities have ‘nil returns’ of 0 free swims for young people. This is due to councils either having joined, or left, the scheme after 1 April 2009, or not having submitted take-up figures by the deadline.

3. More than 20 million have been able to benefit from the scheme at over 1,000 local authority pools and those run by county councils (education authorities) in state schools with community access. Local authorities cannot restrict free swimming to their own residents. Those eligible but covered by a council not participating in the scheme can swim for free at a pool run by a council that is taking part.

4. The number of participating councils is lower than that cited before 1 April 2009, due to local government re-organisation which merged some local authorities, including in the South-West, North-West and North-East of England.

5. The data is for free swims – reflecting the total number of visits to pools, without charge, by young people and those over 60 during this period – rather than the total number of individual swimmers taking advantage of the scheme.

6. The initiative is jointly funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Department of Health, Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Communities and Local Government.

7. It is being delivered in conjunction with local authorities, the Local Government Association, the ASA and Sport England. Further information on the Free Swimming Capital Modernisation Programme, administered by Sport England, is available at www.sportengland.org

Public Enquiries to Department for Culture, Media & Sport: 0207 211 6200

ASA: For more information contact the ASA PR Officer Claire Freeman on 01509 632265 or email claire.freeman@swimming.org

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