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Issue Date:- 1 April 2009

Top swimmers Jo Jackson, Mark Foster and Heather Frederiksen back £140 million initiative

OVER a thousand swimming pools run by almost 300 local councils will offer free swimming from 1 April 2009 for people aged 60 and over, or 16 and under as well - delivering on a Government promise to help get two million people more active by the time London hosts the Olympics and Paralympics in 2012.

Four out of every five local councils in England have signed up to provide free swimming for over 60s, with more than 200 offering it too for young people. Twenty million people are eligible to swim for free, using pools in other areas if their own council is not participating in the scheme.

The £140 million Government initiative includes £60 million in funding to modernise existing swimming facilities or build new ones. Today Andy Burnham, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, announced that 5 facilities in the North West will receive grants worth nearly £1.5 million in 2009/10.  The grants will mean new or revamped pools in the North West, with the biggest award, worth over £600,000, going to Ashton Leisure Centre in Wigan. Full details of the awards can be found at:-

Andy Burnham said:- "This is a landmark moment in our bid to build a healthier and more active nation. It is real evidence of our ambition to use the Olympic and Paralympic Games to lift sport in this country. It is also the day when London 2012 made a real difference on the ground, and to people up and down the country.

We have worked with local councils of all political persuasions to seize the opportunity - and many of them are joining us in making a significant financial contribution to ensure its success. This scheme has caught the mood of the times. It will help young and old keep active and save cash. It is our hope that this is just the beginning and that in time free swimming becomes the norm. This investment in the bricks and mortar of sports facilities in the North West shows just how serious we are about leaving a sporting legacy from the 2012 Games right across the country. I congratulate all the successful councils for their efforts to secure this investment for local people."

The actor and comedian David Walliams, who swam the English Channel for charity in 2006, is also backing the free swimming initiative:- "Swimming has been a real passion of mine since I took it up as a small child. But I was really jumping in the deep end when I swam the English Channel for Sport Relief, fitting training in between performances on the road of Little Britain Live. I hope that by making swimming free for so many in this country we will encourage people to find the time to swim. Just a few lengths is a really great way of getting active and staying healthy. I am right behind this initiative and I hope that millions of people will grab the opportunity and take the plunge."

In total 288 councils across England (81% of those eligible) will be offering free swimming from 1 April for the over-60s. And 207 local authorities (equivalent to 58%) will also be providing it for children and young people aged 16 and under.

This represents a dramatic increase in the number of councils offering some form of free swimming. Until now only about 10
have offered any year-round free access.

Key details of the scheme:-

► More than £31 million is going in the first year to local councils to help meet the cost of providing free access to pools during standard swimming sessions - and millions more will ensure a second year of free swimming in 2010/11;

► Councils that are providing free swimming for both age groups have already been allocated £10 million to improve their local facilities;

► A £50 million capital fund is being made available to councils to modernise existing facilities or help build new ones in 2009/10 and 2010/11. The first grants of £19.2 million are announced today for 52 projects - with the biggest awards of over £1 million going to improved or new facilities in the London boroughs of Southwark and Harrow, and Leicestershire, Calderdale, Nottingham and Waveney.



► A national network of swimming experts is being 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.

Alan Johnson, Secretary of State for Health, said:- "Swimming is fun and it is very good for you - it is one of the best exercises for the whole body. I urge new swimmers and those who have not swum for a while to head down to their local pool and swim for free. Whether you are 16 or 60, if you eat well and move more, you can live longer, healthier and happier lives."

Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families said:- "I am delighted that children across the country will be able to benefit from free swimming. We have invested £30 million over the next two years to rebuild or refurbish school swimming pools because swimming lessons are compulsory in primary schools and we want every child to be able to swim well by the time they are 11 years old. School and youth sport has never been so well funded or in such a better shape which means young people are being given the chance to really show their potential, and this is a great position to be in ahead of the 2012 Olympics."

James Purnell, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, is also backing the initiative:- "Swimming is an excellent way to keep fit and healthy in later life and that is why the DWP is contributing £22m towards the Government's free swimming initiative. I know many over 60s enjoy making a splash in their local pool, and now I hope that millions more will be able to take the plunge."

Communities and Local Government Secretary Hazel Blears said:- "I am delighted that nearly 300 councils have taken the plunge and dipped into the Government funding, and in some cases their own pool of resources, to offer free swimming to their local communities. Swimming is a great way for people of all ages to keep fit and healthy - so I would encourage all those 16 and under and over 60 who will now qualify to swim for free to dive in and make the most of this valuable opportunity. And I look forward to seeing more councils sign up to this exciting new scheme."

Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell said:- "From tomorrow around 20 million people will be able to take a dip without dipping into their pocket. That's a real Olympic legacy that will play a big part in persuading two million more people to get active by 2012. With stars like Rebecca Adlington and Joanne Jackson making real waves in international competition and the Olympics around the corner, this is the perfect time to start opening up the country's pools for free."

David Sparkes, Chief Executive of the ASA, swimming's governing body, said:- "The investment of £140m in free swimming affords us with a massive opportunity and one the ASA is determined to capitalise on. We will help shape the Free Swimming initiative by working with local authorities in ways which are proven to get more people to take to the pool, stay in the pool and have more fun being more active. This will be the first time that there has been a national structure to share best practice on how to deliver swimming and it will provide exciting opportunities to those councils that have opted in. However to succeed it is essential we change the customer experience so more people swim more often. We can only do this by working with councils to change the public perception of swimming and move towards placing the customer at the heart of everything we do."

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