Free swim scheme to end after the funding dries up
A pioneering scheme which has helped thousands of people over 60 swim for free in Norwich is to end because the funding to keep it afloat is about to run dry.
Since April 2009 Norwich City Council's free swim programme has funded more than 43,000 swims. Of these almost 12,000 free swims were taken up by the over 60s with around 25,500 adult swims and 5,500 junior swims.
In 2009 the city council took the decision to introduce and fund its own free swim programme through its Go 4less sport and leisure discount scheme. This was because of fears that the government's own national free swim initiative would not cover its costs as the city council would have been footing the bill for non-Norwich residents living in surrounding areas without their own swimming facilities. Instead the city council provided a free swim programme for its own residents who were eligible under the Go 4less scheme.
And while the government's UK wide free swim initiative ended in June 2010 the council has continued to provide the service.
The scheme has been paid for using an underspend in the neighbourhood renewal fund, a government grant aimed at the country's most deprived communities.
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But with the �74,000 set aside nearly spent, and pressures on council funding in the wake of government spending cuts, the scheme is set to end on July 10 because there are no other external pots of money to pay for it.
From then the price for a swim for Go 4less card holders will be �2.30 for adults and �1.00 for juniors compared to full prices of �4.25 and �2.55. There will also be a time limited offer of �15.99 per month for unlimited swimming for Go 4less card holders during the Go4less times as well as a one-year fixed term membership of �175.89 (including one-month free).
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Martine Holden, leisure and sports development manager, said: 'The city council's free swim programme has proved a real boost to families and individuals in most need.
'As well as continuing to provide free access to swimming for regular swimmers, the scheme has also encouraged previous non-swimmers or those afraid of the water to become more confident and enjoy taking part in a new activity.'
Brenda Arthur, leader of the council and portfolio holder for sport, said: 'In the time the free swim scheme has been running we hope we've gone some way to helping new generations of swimmers be more confident in and around the water, regardless of whether they belong to younger or older generations.'
Judith Lubbock, leader of the Lib Dem group, said it was a shame funding could not be found to keep the scheme until the end of the school holidays, but with the council shortly set to embark on a 'Big Conversation' about savings, the money could be found from elsewhere.
'These are tough times and it's not easy to find the money, but even if they do have to stop it, it may be able to reintroduce it after the Big Conversation,' she said.
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