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Thousands to enjoy free swimming

PUBLISHED: 07:43 01 April 2009 | UPDATED: 08:39 06 July 2010

The launch of free swimming at the Riverside pool in Norwich
Tracey Williamson and her daughter Katie

The launch of free swimming at the Riverside pool in Norwich Tracey Williamson and her daughter Katie

Thousands of people across East Anglia will be able to swim for free from today, thanks to a national government scheme linked to the 2012 Olympics.

But the exact groups of people able to take advantage of the project, which will run for two years, will be different according to where they live - unless they travel to participating districts and boroughs.

Thousands of people across East Anglia will be able to swim for free from today, thanks to a national government scheme linked to the 2012 Olympics.

But the exact groups of people able to take advantage of the project, which will run for two years, will be different according to where they live - unless they travel to participating districts and boroughs.

The two groups in question are over-60s and under-16s. Each local authority has been given the choice of which group it allows to take part in the free swimming.

Some 288 English councils (81pc of the total) will offer free swimming for people over 60, while 207 councils (58pc) will also offer it for under-16s.

In Norfolk, Broadland, Yarmouth and West Norfolk will allow both groups, while Breckland, North Norfolk and South Norfolk will offer it to the over-60s only.

In north Suffolk, Waveney District Council is offering free swimming to people aged under 16 and over 60 at the Water Lane leisure centre in Lowestoft and at Bungay pool.

Free sessions will also be available to younger and older swimmers at Stradbroke pool and the Mid Suffolk Leisure Centre in Stowmarket.

The £140m government initiative was launched in June as a key part of plans to secure a “lasting legacy” from the UK's hosting of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games in 2012.

The free swimming is guaranteed to run at least until March 2011, the period covered by the government's current spending review.

More than 20 million people could benefit from the scheme at more than 1,000 local authority pools and those run by county council education authorities in state schools and with community access.

The Marina Centre pool and the Phoenix Pool in Bradwell will offer free swimming at set times every day as part of the scheme.

Both centres are managed by the Great Yarmouth Sport and Leisure Trust, and the news was welcomed by Graham Plant, cabinet member for regeneration and tourism.

A government spokesman explained it was up to local councils how they administered the scheme, but guidance meant the free swimmers must be able to swim at a time and place when they would normally expect to swim.

Councils should not restrict free swimming to certain days or time slots except for telling under-16s they cannot swim during school hours of state schools.

And local authorities cannot restrict free swimming to their own residents.

Andy Burnham, secretary of state for culture, media and sport, said: “This is a landmark moment in our bid to build a healthier and more active nation.”

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