Youth face being left high and dry without swim support, Sported underlines
By Sported | 24 February 2023
By Sported | 24 February 2023
Sported is backing calls to protect access to swimming and pools amid fears that cost of living increases and other economic pressures could impact on young people’s ability to take part.
It comes on the Big Swim Day on Friday February 24 with calls to national, devolved and local government to take urgent measures to keep open the doors of facilities, many of whom are small, independent pools serving local communities.
Newly-published Sported research among a network of 3,000 member groups across a variety of activities showed 53 per cent were witnessing a reduction in their income.
The charity’s polling, conducted in January 2023, has highlighted fears that young people are being forced out of physical activity – with 37 per cent of groups reporting a reduction in young people attending sessions in recent months.
“Swimming is a life skill but it’s an outlet as well,” said Kathryn Hughes of Merthyr Tydfil Swimming Club.
“There’s the club element. There’s participation and the way they benefit from their involvement within a supportive environment. You don’t see that written down in plans but kids come to understand that’s a big part of what they get.
“We have a pent-up demand that we can’t fulfil because one of the two pools in our area closed suddenly in 2019 and hasn’t re-opened.
“Kids want to come to the club but the numbers exceed our ability to accommodate them and so they are having to go outside the area.”
Sported, which works with community and grassroots organisations across the UK, has written to both the Prime Minister and the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales to flag the issues in recent months.
Sported was also a signatory on a letter to Rishi Sunak earlier this week which asked the UK government to extend its Energy Bills Discount Scheme to the community leisure sector when it is introduced in April – or risk an increase in utility bills which will undermine hubs which offer a priceless lifeline to so many young people across the country.
“Many smaller swimming facilities, in particular, are run by community organisations to provide a vital local resource,” said Sported chief executive Nicola Walker.
“While community groups rely on affordable access to facilities to remain sustainable and to be able to offer young people a place where they can feel safe and supported.
“We are already seeing how of cost of living pressures are hitting grassroots sport and physical activity in the pocket. It’s so important that government understands that providing support at this challenging time represents a wise long-term investment in our young people and in our society.”
– Sported chief executive Nicola Walker
The impact goes onto dry land too with numerous clubs and centres injecting widespread social benefits into their communities.
During Covid, the West Wight Sports and Community Centre on the Isle of Wight flipped overnight from aquatics and physical activity into an essential hub. That really raised our profile, said Clare Griffin, its centre manager.
That credibility and reach continues now.
“We’re able to do a lot of work with young people,” she underlined. “We run community cafes. We have a co-ordinator who supports vulnerable people and allows us to impact on homelessness and addressing debt concerns.
“We can get to hard-to-reach people and integrate them into what we’re doing and that’s really effective.
“But we’re a charity and have been since we started. We have to raise funds and donations to carry on.”
As in Merthyr Tydfil, two local pools have been reduced to one already and it has enforced a squeeze in capacity.
“You’ve had 500 spaces for swimming lessons lost and that’s a significant hole,” Griffin, whose centre reaches 4,000 users weekly, added.
“We just can’t fill that capacity so some people who want to learn to swim, can’t.”
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