FREE swimming in Wigan’s pools is to be axed next month.
Despite the withdrawal of government funding the council agreed to retain free swimming for under-16s during the school holidays and also for pensioners. Yet ‘research carried out by Salford University has found that swimming numbers have not increased by the levels required to have a positive impact on child obesity levels’ Wigan Today.
The report continues: ‘Similar national research… shows that cost is not the main barrier to people swimming in public pools.’
‘Although 18 million free swims were taken during the first year of the national scheme, around 83 per cent of those aged 60 and over and 73 per cent of those aged 16 and under would have gone swimming anyway, even if they had to pay for it.’
‘Evidence from Salford University found that total pool visits increased by 15.1 per cent in the year of the introduction of universal free swimming.’ Additionally the ‘rate of swimming participation from the borough’s most deprived communities was the same as for across the borough as a whole. And those people who used the free swim offer did not swim regularly.’
The question then is; why have these schemes proved unsuccessful when it comes to getting the Nation active?
The indoor swimming pool is not the swimmers natural habitat. In other countries swimming pools compliment outdoor swimming. Swimmers learn to swim in the pool and then put their knowledge to good use in the real world of outdoor swimming. For example in the United States a new free drowning prevention program rewards children who complete the course with their very own life vest.
In the U.K. officials in many areas outlaw real or outdoor swimming recommending that swimmers stay safely indoors instead. Yet indoor swimming soon becomes monotonous for those not keen to constantly race their friends to the other end of the pool.
The freedom fun and adventure of wild swimming could if properly encouraged inspire the nation to get fit, get active and get outside for a change. However the nation is not going to be inspired to swim if outdoor swimming is discouraged. Just as the nations youngsters cannot be inspired to dive unless they are allowed to. A shortage of diving boards turns inspiration into frustration country wide. Yet there are many suitable outdoor swimming locations that lay forgotten and neglected in England, perhaps it’s not money that needs to be thrown at this issue but rather a change of attitude that needs to be encouraged.
Perhaps free swimmers should be allowed to swim free – in the great outdoors!