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Free swimming scheme makes waves!
Friday 1st April, 2005

Free swimming scheme makes waves!
Wigan RL players Liam Colborn and Stephen Wild, Leigh
Centurions John Wilshere and Rob Jackson with young 'Freestylers' Luke, Annabel and Niall Rowlands at Wigan International Pool.

The North West’s first free swimming scheme for young people Freestyle is a real winner!

April 1st 2005 has proven to be a great day for all young people in the Wigan Borough, free swimming officially arrives and people aged 16 and under have grabbed the opportunity with open arms! At the latest count, 8,000 children in Wigan have proved that they aren’t April Fools and have signed up for a Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust (WLCT) Lifestyle card, enabling them to swim in any of WLCT’s five swimming pools for free as of today.

Wigan Borough is the first authority in the North West and only the third nationally (following Birmingham and Glasgow) to launch such a fully inclusive initiative that will run indefinitely. Freestyle is a key part of WLCT’s wider vision for Getting Wigan Active which aims to increase levels of physical and mental activity amongst all of the borough’s residents. Given the huge amount of recent media coverage concerning children’s health problems, Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust is tackling the problem head on.

On Thursday, Wigan Warriors (Stephen Wild and Liam Colbon) and Leigh Centurions (John Wilshere and Rob Jackson) stars helped WLCT officially launch the scheme competing against one another in a ‘Freestyle race-off’ (one length of the 50m pool) at Wigan International Pool. Leigh winger John Wilshere won in an explosive time of 35 seconds in front of an enthusiastic audience containing young swimmers from across the borough. John was happen to get one over his rivals and more importantly was keen to praise such a pioneering initiative, “I think Freestyle is a great idea. Encouraging kids to take up sport is beneficial long term. Personally I love swimming and it’s a great way to keep fit and if people can come and do it for free then all the better.”

“We have been encouraged by the high number of young people who have signed up for a Lifestyle card. To have received 8,000 applications before the scheme has even been launched is excellent and it proves the people of the borough are gaining an appetite for physical activity,” commented Rodney Hill, Chief Executive of WLCT.”

“The long term benefits of increasing levels of physical activity across the borough are self-evident. Swimming has enormous health benefits particularly in helping the fight against growing levels of childhood obesity; it is socially inclusive and it appeals to people of all levels of physical ability. We want children to get active, get healthy and have fun!”

The Freestyle swimming scheme is designed to run year-on-year and is not a pilot scheme, such as ones run in other parts of the country during school holidays. It is also a fore-runner to a broader Lifestyle scheme that WLCT will be launching later this year, to encourage people of all ages to participate in physical and mental activities ranging from sporting activity to increased library use.

“Levels of physical activity in the Wigan Borough sit very closely to the national average. Nationally only 32% of people participate in an activity that confers a health benefit. To redress this balance we cannot afford to sit back and wait; we have decided to take action now”, confirms Martin Eden, WLCT’s Executive Director for Sport and Healthy Activity. “A similar scheme was launched in Glasgow in 2001, by the end of the first year participation levels had increased by 120%. If we can come anywhere near that figure, we will be making great strides towards our aims to steadily reverse the declining levels in physical activity reflected nationally over the past decade.”

Free swimming scheme makes waves!
Leigh winger John Wilshere, winner of the ‘Freestyle race-off’

Free swimming scheme makes waves!
The Mayor and Mayoress of Wigan with young 'Freestylers' Niall, Annabel and Luke Rowlands.

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