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Free swimming scheme for youngsters makes waves!
Wednesday 20th April, 2005

10,000 under-16s sign-up for the North West’s first free swimming scheme!

This April saw the launch of Freestyle, Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust’s free swimming scheme for people aged 16 and under. At the latest count, 10,000 children in the Wigan Borough have signed up for a Lifestyle card, enabling them to swim in any of WLCT’s five swimming pools for free.

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 national media coverage concerning children’s health problems, Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust is tackling the problem head on.

“We have been encouraged by the high number of young people who have signed up for a Lifestyle card. To have received 10,000 applications only three weeks after the scheme was 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 forerunner to a wide-ranging Lifestyle scheme that WLCT will be launching later this year, to encourage people of all ages to participate in physical and mental activities 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. “We have an ongoing policy to improve sporting facilities in the borough and we are determined to give more people, more opportunities to get fit and healthy.”

To help launch the scheme Wigan and Leigh’s rugby stars pulled on their trunks at Wigan International Pool and took part in a fun but competitive Freestyle race, that highlighted the long-term benefits of swimming and captured the imagination of the public. Wigan Warriors’ Stephen Wild and Liam Colborn together with Leigh Centurions John Wilshere and Rob Jackson raced for one length of the 50m pool. Leigh winger John Wilshere won in an explosive time of 35 seconds.

John was happy 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.”

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