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New Free Swim Initiative Promises To Deliver Much Needed Change

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A revised Free Swimming Initiative, funded by Welsh Government and delivered by Sport Wales in partnership with Local Authorities, will be introduced in public pools across Wales from October 2019 onwards.

Young people and people over the age of 60 from areas of deprivation will be the priority under the new national objectives. The aim is to attract people who face the most barriers in accessing a pool the chance to learn a life skill and to swim more frequently.

The revised initiative comes after an independent review of the current scheme found it to be no longer fit for purpose. 

"The review made it very clear that change is needed", says Graham Williams, Director of Community Engagement at Sport Wales. "There's no denying the previous successes of free swimming, or the fact that it has helped to get thousands swimming since its inception in 2003. However, the review concluded that the current approach is not cost-effective, nor does it make the biggest contribution to increasing levels of activity. To highlight the extent of the current performance: The number of young people benefiting from the scheme is in significant decline and this has been the case since 2013-14. For the 60 plus age group, the review estimated that only 6% of the target population currently access the programme. It is against this very challenging backdrop that policy changes have been decided by The Welsh Government."

From October, the changes will see a reduction in the overall budget available which will in turn impact on the number of sessions available.  There will be a phased implementation depending on local circumstances, with all partners working towards all public pools offering free sessions at suitable times. For young people there will be free sessions every weekend throughout the year with additional sessions in the summer holidays. Pools will also be offering some free and possibly subsidised sessions for over 60s.

Graham Williams continued: "Using an insight-led and partnership approach to working with local organisations we can ensure free swimming continues to play a role in supporting people to swim. Not only is it a life skill but it can also be the start of a positive relationship with sport and being active for life which brings with it so many added physical and mental health benefits. We understand that change may not be positive for everyone and apologise to those who may find their normal sessions rescheduled or no longer free. We are working hard with our LA colleagues to minimise impact and to ensure the funding that is available is used to maximum benefit."

The new initiative will be delivered against a reduced budget of £1.5m per annum from April 2020. 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.

Those looking to find out more about what's available in their area and changes to current sessions under the revised initiative are advised to contact their local public pool for more information and updated timetables.