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Hundreds of children will enjoy free swimming as part of a series of government pilots aimed at increasing access t...
Hundreds of children will enjoy free swimming as part of a series of government pilots aimed at increasing access to physical activity and sport in low income areas.

Public health minister Yvette Cooper announced a new£2.5m programme of community pilot schemes today as she spoke at the NHS 'Taking Action' physical activity conference. The nine pilot schemes across England, one of which will be free swimming, will give thousands of children and adults in deprived areas increased opportunities to get active and use local leisure facilities. Other approaches to be taken in the pilots might include:

- GPs publicising local opportunities for exercise including local leisure facilities and maps of local walks

- Primary care staff providing advice and counselling on exercise levels

- Targeted initiatives to increase participation in sport and exercise in low income areas

- Expansion of exercise referral schemes focusing on deprived and high risk groups

- Joint projects between the NHS and transport planners to support walking and cycling

These pilots will start later this year and run for two years. They are being developed with Sport England and the Countryside Agency. The work forms part of a partnership between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Health.

Yvette Cooper said:

'Evidence shows us that unskilled manual workers are three times less likely to participate in sport than professionals. Yet increasing access to exercise for everyone could save hundreds of lives each year by helping to tackle coronary heart disease, stroke, obesity and diabetes as well as improving overall health. That is why the government is developing new schemes to ensure everyone can exercise if they want to regardless of where they live or how much they earn. Taking exercise isn't so easy if you can't afford the entrance fee, there's no bus to get there or no parks nearby.'

The pilot projects will build on the work already underway in Primary Care Trusts through the exercise referral scheme and test out the effectiveness of a variety of community based approaches such as free swimming to help people increase their levels of physical activity. Lessons learnt about what works will be shared across the country.

David Moffett, chief executive of Sport England said:

'Learning to swim provides young people with not only a healthy leisure pursuit, but also a valuable life saving skill. I wholeheartedly support this new initiative that will give more children the opportunity to access facilities to learn to swim and take regular exercise.'

Jon Tomlinson, director of the Countryside Agency said:

'Our walking the way to health initiative has demonstrated how people can take exercise with others close to where they live, without extra equipment or expense. These new community pilot schemes will offer a range of options to encourage everyone to become more physically active in their own communities,making use of their local environment and facilities.'


The importance of physical activity is recognised in the NHS Plan, Cancer Plan, and the National Service Frameworks for Coronary Heart Disease, Diabetes, Older People and Mental Health.

Six out of ten men and seven out of ten women are not meeting the recommended half an hour of moderate intensity physical activity on five or more days a week. Four out of ten boys and six out of ten girls are not meeting the recommended hour a day of physical activity.

Funding for the local exercise action pilots is being made available by the Department of Health (£1m), Sport England (£700,000) and the Countryside Agency (£900,000).

Sport England is the country's leading sports development agency and a distributor of lottery funding to sport.

The Countryside Agency is responsible for advising government and taking action on issues relating to the social, economic and environmental well-being of the English countryside. It has been working with the British Heart Foundation and New Opportunities Fund to get more people walking in their own communities, particularly those who take little exercise or live in areas of poor health.

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