SECRETARY OF STATE SEES FREE SWIMMING SUCCESS
30 Oct 2009
Ben Bradshaw, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, has seen for himself the difference the Government’s Free Swimming initiative is making to under 16s in one of the most deprived areas of the country.
Bradshaw visited Gloucester’s GL1 Leisure Centre yesterday following on from the announcement earlier this week that more than 10m swims have been taken across England since the initiative launched in April.
Gloucester initially joined the scheme in April for the over 60s only but in June also decided to offer free swims to those aged 16 and under. The centre has also been working closely with the ASA to deliver Free Swimming lessons to those who may not have accessed the pool otherwise.
So far over 27,000 free swims have been enjoyed and free swimming has been particularly popular with children and young people in Gloucester. The GL1 Leisure Centre has seen the number of those aged 16 and under swimming triple and this week reached the mark of having 8,000 children taking part in the scheme.
Bradshaw said: “It’s really great they have had nearly 30,000 free swims already in just the first six months of the scheme. And of the under 16s, nearly of half of those are people who had not swum here before. Some of these are children who may have been hanging around the streets but are now being active and having fun.”
GL1 have backed up the scheme with a comprehensive database which means they can map exactly who has used the offer of free swimming, where they have travelled from and how many times they use the pool.
This has highlighted 42 per cent of young people now swimming at the pool had never done so before the scheme was launched locally in June. It has also shown the percentage of children visiting from the surrounding areas, most of which are within the highest 10 per cent of deprivation in the country.
GL1 have also successfully harnessed new technology by allowing people to sign up to the scheme online (users need to register before they can access free swimming) and they have found 37 per cent of people used the web to join in.
GL1’s Chief Executive Steve Elway is delighted with the response from his team and the success of the scheme. But he is also realistic that there is a shortfall in funding between the government’s cash and the cost to the centre that must be addressed.
He explained: “After six months we have been able to actually quantify the funding gap and in reality that amounts to £40,000. We are prepared to contribute to that but we will need partners, and a number of partners, to breach that funding for the second year of the scheme.”
Additional funding has been made available via government, and has been administered by the ASA, to provide Free Swimming lessons so the initiative also becomes available to those who have never learnt to swim. So far GL1 has already held lessons for a number of groups including Asian and Traveller communities and youth groups, such as children who are not engaged in school.
Alan Green, the ASA’s County Swimming Co-ordinator for Gloucestershire, said: “GL1 is a fantastic facility and they have embraced Free Swimming and worked extremely hard to make it work, which is why the figures are where they are today.
“The centre’s staff work proactively with me and have been really responsive to the suggestions from the ASA. They have delivered some great ‘quick fix’ lessons and they are now looking to embrace further funding to target more hard to reach groups.”
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The ASA is the English National Governing Body for Swimming, Diving, Water Polo, Open Water, and Synchronised Swimming. It organises competition throughout England, establishes the Laws of the Sport and operates comprehensive certification and education programmes for Teachers, Coaches and Officials as well as its renowned Learn To Swim Awards scheme. The ASA supports 1,220 affiliated swimming clubs through a National/Regional/County structure. The ASA aims to ensure everybody has an opportunity to learn to swim.
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