Free swims for pupils and oaps

FREE swimming in Wigan’s pools is continuing next year despite fears over spending cuts.

Wigan Council’s ruling cabinet has agreed that the scheme can still be offered from January next year to children during the school holidays and pensioners.

But faced with £55m of savings over the next three years, council chiefs have been forced to scrap free swimming for all.

Wigan became one of the first boroughs in the country to offer free swimming through a joint initiative from the council, Wigan, Leisure and Culture Trust and Ashton, Leigh and Wigan Primary Care Trust.

Coun Brian Baldwin, Wigan Council’s Cabinet Champion for Culture, said: “When we launched the free-swimming for all scheme we recognised the importance of physical activity for people’s health and well-being.

“Swimming is a great way of keeping fit and we wanted to make sure that everyone in our borough had access to it regardless of age or circumstances.

“The scheme was really well received by people in the borough but unfortunately times have changed and we can no longer continue to offer free swimming for all but we wanted to continue to ensure that those groups who would benefit from free swimming the most could continue to enjoy it.”

The pioneering free swimming-for-all plan - founded in the borough by then Health Secretary and Leigh MP Andy Burnham – attracted almost 60,000 supporters in its first year.

For the first nine months of the scheme there were 219,265 swims – a 60 per cent increase on the previous year.

The programme ended nationally in the summer but a meeting between the council, Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust and the NHS Trust found enough funding to grant a six-month reprieve.

Now the council has decided the scheme can continue into next year for over 65s and youngsters aged 16 and under during the school holidays.

To take advantage of free swimming you need to have a Lifestyle membership card. From January the cost of the membership card will be £1.60 per year.

Free swimming for those aged 16 and under will apply to all school holidays, including Easter, summer, Christmas and half-term holidays. For more information on the Lifestyle card and the discounts available, visit www.wlct.org/lifestyle or visit your local leisure centre/swimming pool.