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Free Swimming Initiative

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What is the Free Swimming Initiative in Wales? 

Free Swimming in Wales was first launched in 2003. It was the first national free swimming programme in Wales. The aim? To get more young people (aged 16 and under) and over 60s learning to swim and swimming more regularly.

It is a Welsh Government-funded initiative, managed by Sport Wales and delivered by the 22 Local Authorities.

An independent review in 2019 called for change in the way the programme operates.

Changes to the Free Swimming Initiative in Wales

Following the independent review and guidance from Welsh Government, Free Swimming still targets young people and older people over the age of 60 - but now prioritises those from areas of deprivation.

The aim is to help people who face the biggest barriers in accessing a pool so we can give them the chance to learn a life skill and to swim more frequently. 

The changes came into place in October 2019, ensuring the Free Swimming Initiative is fit for purpose.

Each local authority and their delivery partners are now responsible for providing a minimum standard of one free splash session to young people each weekend, in every Local Authority run pool. 

And during the summer holidays, each pool will be expected to deliver two free sessions during the week in addition to the weekend session. 

Pools will also offer some free and possibly subsidised sessions for over 60s. 

Local Authorities - and their delivery partners, such as leisure trusts - will be able to decide how to cater for this audience and create offers that make the best use of the funding locally. This will include a free swim option, but it may also include subsidised swimming and/or multi-sport offers. 

Why the changes?

The independent review stated that the Free Swimming Initiative was no longer fit for purpose.

While it has helped get thousands across Wales swimming since it began in 2003, the review concluded that it was not cost-effective. It also spelt out that it did not make the biggest contribution to increasing levels of activity. 

The number of young people benefiting from the scheme was in significant decline since 2013-14. For the 60 plus age group, the review estimated that only 6% of the target population were accessing the programme. 

It is against this very challenging backdrop that policy changes were decided by the Welsh Government.

Updates to swim facilities

The new initiative will be delivered against a reduced budget of £1.5m per annum from April 2020 and is expected to be spent on ensuring the offer is right for each of the target groups. 

However, during 2019-20 Local Authorities will also have access to a share of £1m in capital investment allowing them to update swim facilities where needed. This is to be used before the end of the financial year to improve the customer experience in some pools.

Further information

To find out more, please contact your local public pool for more information and updated timetables.

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