Taking the plunge with free swimming; Pools to be opened to the young and old.
A SWIMMING strategy is set to include free entry into council-run pools in Newcastle for young and older people.
The free sessions will be subsidised by the Government as part of a national initiative to promote a healthier lifestyle.
The plan is to allow the over- 60s and under-18s free entry into council-run pools.
Council chiefs say this will build upon Newcastle's existing Fusion card scheme, which allows under-18s free entry to leisure facilities including swimming sessions at certain times, and a scheme which allows swimming at reduced rates for the over-60s.
Officials say funding is expected from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport early next year, probably in April.
The aim is to encourage more people to enjoy swimming, tackle problems with obesity and help produce the next generation of Olympic champions.
Major improvements have been carried out to the city's pools but attendances ares still falling, in line with national trends. However, swimming is more popular in Newcastle than in many cities.
Nationally, 12% of adults swim regularly, while in Newcastle the figure is 14%.
The new 10-year strategy, backed by the council's Liberal Democrat executive, aims to encourage more people to take it up. Coun Pauline Allen, Lib Dem executive member for culture, leisure and customer service, said: "This is an extremely important strategy. We want residents to be as fit and healthy as possible, especially youngsters."
Deputy Labour group leader Coun Joyce McCarty welcomed the proposals but warned: "Swimming needs to be fun. Children get bored just swimming up and down. We need to think creatively."
Head of leisure Tony McKenna said: "The strategy is all about participation. We want to get as many people swimming as possible.
If you can swim it can save your life. It can also address the rise in obesity among children.
"At the same time, we want people to enjoy themselves. We want them to come along with their families, have fun and get the health benefits. We know price is a barrier."
The strategy document says: "It is never too late to learn or improve swimming skills. This strategy is all about developing swimming as an accessible activity for lifelong participation.
"Nationally, obesity is at epidemic proportions. In Newcastle 31.4% of primary school aged children are overweight or obese and in some areas of the city the figure is as high as 44%.
"If we continue down this road this generation of children will have a life expectancy shorter than that of their parents."
It adds: "Newcastle has swimmers who are training with a view to competing in the 2012 Olympics and the city must continue to support them in any way it can."