Pool visits take a dive after free swimming sessions are scrapped
THE number of people swimming at Derby pools has plummeted since charges were reintroduced.
Now, leisure chiefs are urgently looking at reducing pool charges to bring back the missing swimmers.
A Government scheme launched in April last year meant that children and over-60s were able to swim for free at Queen's Leisure Centre and Moorways Swimming Pool and the city was reimbursed for the cost.
But since the new coalition Government pulled the plug on that scheme on July 31, the number of swimming sessions at the pools has plunged. They have fallen from 27,865 for the same period last year to 22,617.
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Councillor Alan Grimadell, cabinet member for leisure and culture at the Tory-led council, said he did not want to see that reduction continue.
He said: "I have already started investigating the possibility of a reduction in the charges for under-16s and over-60s swimming in the city. That is something we are exploring and I hope something can be introduced soon."
The Labour shadow cabinet member for leisure and culture in Derby, Councillor Barbara Jackson, said the figures were worrying.
She said: "These figures show the impact removing the free swimming has had on Derby.
"I think the council should be finding a way to keep the funding in place to continue bring back free swimming."
Families swimming at the Queen's Leisure Centre said they had noticed the effect of the changes.
Amanjit Sandhar, 34, of Trent Close, Stenson Fields, said her son, Amar, 8, and his grandfather, Chuhar Singh, 61, have stopped swimming at Moorways.
She said: "Amar has swimming classes at the Queen's Leisure Centre but he and his grandad used to go about once a week to Moorways to swim for fun.
"Since there is no more free swimming, they haven't been going any more, which is a shame, because it was such a nice day out for them."
During August, 2009, the number of swimming sessions at Queen's Leisure Centre was 16,150. There were 11,715 sessions at Moorways. In August this year, 12,097 sessions took place at Moorways but only 10,520 at Queens, a total of 5,428 fewer swimming in sessions at the city's pools.
Karl Davidson, chairman of swimming club Derventio eXcel, said that was worrying, particularly in the run-up to the London 2012 Olympics.
"I think, without the free swimming, we might not get competitive young swimmers coming though. And, for many children, it was the only sport they were doing when they took up free swimming."
The number of people swimming at pools in South Derbyshire has dropped by more than half since free swimming was scrapped.
In the first month of the scheme, 10,090 under-18s and over-60s took advantage of free swimming at Greenbank and Etwall Leisure Centres.
But during the same period this year – after the scheme was scrapped – the numbers dropped to 3,855 in the same age ranges.
Stuart Batchelor, head of leisure and community services at South Derbyshire District Council, said: "We will be doing all we can to ensure the cost of getting into the pool remains affordable for all of our residents."
Junior and senior swims cost £1.45 at the Greenbank Leisure Centre, in Swadlincote, and £1.85 at Etwall.