Let us have free swimming!

Plea from Carluke youngsters

YOUNGSTERS in Carluke have slammed South Lanarkshire Council for charging them to go swimming during the summer break when children in the neighbouring local authority can go free.

Nicole Reardon (11) and her teenage cousins Colene and Erin Graham are disgusted that their peers in North Lanarkshire can go swimming for free during the long summer break but they have to pay 1.10 an hour to use the baths.

Nicole and her cousins rightly state that North Lanarkshire Council has a free-swim policy during the school holidays which means that children under 16 can swim free of charge between 10am and 4pm at any of the authority's eight pools.

Nicole said: "My family and I think it's a disgrace

"We all pay the same community charge so why should we not get free swimming?"

The youngsters also told the Gazette that the charge discouraged them from going swimming at all.

The protest comes the same week as the Lancet medical journal reported on a study which revealed that children need more exercise to stay healthy than current guidelines advise.

North Lanarkshire Council has hailed its free swim initiative as a triumph and says that thousands of youngster use the pools free of charge every year.

Councillor Jim Logue, convener of North Lanarkshire Council community services committee, said: "We introduced free swims for under 16s in North Lanarkshire in 2001 and it has proved to be one of our most successful initiatives with hundreds of thousands of young people taking advantage of the scheme over the last six years - almost 66,000 in summer 2005 alone. The scheme runs during the summer, Easter and October school holidays and provides free swims for under 16s between 10am and 4pm on weekdays. This year's summer programme runs from Friday June 30 until Friday August 18.

"The scheme is designed to encourage local youngsters to become more active more often - in a fun way - and to adopt a healthier lifestyle during the holidays. It also encourages youngsters to use dedicated swimming pools rather than potentially dangerous ponds, rivers, lochs, or other open water areas, which are traditionally busy in the summer, especially during good spells of weather."

But this week, South Lanarkshire Council said it does invest in swimming initiatives for its young residents.

A spokesman said: "South Lanarkshire Leisure Limited successfully operates nine swimming pools across South Lanarkshire. Rather than simply provide free access to swimming for schoolchildren, the council decided four years ago to introduce an innovative programme called the Swim Safe project. This project receives 100,000 of funding from the council each year and is specifically tailored to the needs of local primary school children to be safe and confident in and around water.

"By the end of the 12-week programme the goal is for every pupil in South Lanarkshire to be able to swim a distance of 15m unaided and demonstrate a knowledge and proficiency in survival techniques, life-saving and first aid by the end of primary seven. The project has been highly successful and all pupils who take part are granted ten free swims in any South Lanarkshire pool.

"We consider the Swim Safe project as a more worthwhile and beneficial alternative to simply offering free access to swimming pools, as many children who cannot swim do not benefit from such a scheme.

"There is, however, through the council's Universal Connections Centre, an opportunity for youngsters aged 11 and above in the Carluke and Lanark area to access free swimming at local pools.

''This involves the children registering with Universal Connections and they are then given a free pass for the day and free travel to the leisure centre on public transport. We consider this method of providing free access more advantageous as it records the youngsters who are attending the swimming pool and also involves them with Universal Connections, which is committed to providing fun educational and leisure facilities for youngsters. More information is available from Universal Connections on 01555 751818."