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Free swimming for disabled and unemployed considered across whole ABC borough

Free swimming pool access could soon be on the cards for the disabled and unemployed at all leisure centres across the borough.

Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council could be about to do a u-turn on an unpopular policy.

Some councillors feel they were not equipped with enough facts and figures before agreeing to a concessionary pricing structure in November 2014.

To that end, a recommendation will go to the council’s leisure and community services committee when it meets in Craigavon tonight (Monday).

It would allow for free swimming at five local leisure centres – Orchard Leisure Centre in Armagh, Cascades in Portadown, Banbridge Leisure Centre, Waves in Lurgan and Brownlow.

The aim of the earlier concessionary policy was to “define the need for concession prices as a means of offering incentives for specific, targeted user groups to use leisure facilities and to harmonise the level of concession awarded across the council”.

The policy set the concession rate at 65% of the full adult price for services which already had a concession price.

It also detailed three user groups which would be entitled to free swimming – children aged four and under, adults over 60, and carers who are required to directly accompany a disabled person to help them.

Prior to the adoption of the policy, Armagh City and District Council had offered free swimming to disabled and unemployed users.

Officers have now monitored the situation and estimate that introducing free swimming to disabled and unemployed across the borough will cost close to £3,600.

They also believe these user groups could be better encouraged to use leisure facilities by using specifically targeted schemes; programmes such as the Craigavon Inclusive Leisure Project (CILP) – funded by Disability Sport NI – has 52 regular weekly members who pay £3 per session and participate in a variety of land and pool based sports.

Officers plan to extend this to the Armagh and Banbridge areas and to include unemployed users.

They point to the success of the programme despite the cost of £3 and feel extending the free swimming scheme may affect it.

But the recommendation is still going forward to allow free swimming for disabled and unemployed.

At the same time, if approved – and that will be subject to full council backing at the end of the month – it will be for a period of a year.

A report would then go back to committee in November 2017 when councillors will be able to decide whether or not to make it permanent.

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