The North West pilot project - located in Wirral Local Authority Involvement: The aim of Everyday Swim (ES) in the Wirral was to increase the percentage of people aged over 50 years swimming in the Borough, by widening access for the increasing older population of Wirral. The focus was on increasing swimming activity and promoting the positive health benefits of regular exercise, particularly for those who experience adverse social and economic conditions.
The project aimed to build on the free swimming initiative for people aged 60 years and over that has been running with huge success in the Borough since May 2006 (There was a 175% increase in total Elderly people swims between 2005/2006 when the programme began and 2006/2007).
Since the initial expression of interest was submitted in March 2006, there has been some progress towards increasing the participation in swimming for the older population in Wirral, however the majority of the planning and delivery was undertaken from August 2007 onwards when the Everyday Swim Coordinator (ESC) started in post. The original coordinator resigned from the coordinators job in December 2006 and as a result of recruitment delays linked to unexpected need for reappointment and the replacement being on a secondment from Wirral council, there was a gap of 7 months when ES in Wirral was 'on hold', which meant that a significant amount of delivery time was lost on the project, and therefore ES in Wirral experienced much shorter planning horizons than the other pilot projects.
From August 2007, a substantial amount of ground work was undertaken including a review of pool programmes across six of Wirral's pools, to allow time to be freed up for ES activity. This included the programming of new swimming sessions as well as extensive marketing and promotion of the programme.
Infrastructure / stakeholders: The ES coordinator was located in the Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council (WBC) offices, within the Cultural Services team in the Regeneration department. This setting proved to work well and enabled the ES coordinator to work closely and efficiently alongside colleagues within the cultural services team.
The steering group met approximately every two months and up to 31st March 2009 there were a total of 9 meetings held. The steering group comprised WBC representatives (including the Principle Officer for Development and Inclusion and Programme Development Manager), Primary Care Trust (PCT) representatives, Adult Social Services, Age Concern and the County Sports Partnership Merseyside Sport, plus a lifeguard and a facility user (member of the public)
Operational Model: The ES budget for Wirral was £200,000 (£100,000 of this was match-funding from Wirral Borough Council). The match funding from Wirral Borough Council was not tied to any specific agenda or project other than that it should be used with the overall aim of 'increasing swimming participation by the over 50's in Wirral'.
The ES coordinator was fortunate to have a relatively free hand with the allocated ES budget. Decisions on expenditure were authorised by the Principal Officer for Development and Inclusion, or the Regional ASA Director. The coordinator worked closely with both these individuals.
The ES coordinator worked at an operational level and was able to demonstrate that she had a clear advantage of working at this level. The ES coordinator previously worked as a Duty Manager at the Oval Leisure Centre, this subsequently meant that she was in a fortunate position in terms of the working relationships that she had already established with centre managers and other colleagues within the leisure centres and therefore she did not have to begin building those relationships from scratch when she first came in to post in August 2007.
The established relationships with the leisure centres allowed the ES coordinator to spend more time forming successful partnerships at a strategic level, for ES, for example the Primary Care Trust and their Falls Prevention team and Age Concern. This engagement with partners has been successful and instrumental in the delivery of ES in Wirral, the coordinators knowledge of working on the ground proved to be a significant benefit in this process.
What has happened on the ground? The information below provides an account of the ES programme in the Wirral up to 31st March 2009, which is structured into four key themes; audits and site planning, projects and workforce development and promotional activity.
ES in Wirral aimed to efficiently utilise existing resources available to the programme, this proved to be fairly successful with 22 new swimming classes implemented as a result of the re-structured pool programme, this has had a wider positive impact on the community of Wirral and not just people aged over 50 years.
Audits and Site Planning
In terms of identifying opportunities and gaps in provision, the ES coordinator firstly instigated an audit of swimming provision for older people. This initial audit resulted in a new adult learn to swim class being established at Leasowe Recreation Centre with roll out across other sites as the programme began to pick up pace.
Audits were also undertaken at Leasowe recreation centre, Woodchurch leisure centre and West Kirby Concourse with the help of the Primary Care Trust's Falls Prevention Manager and the Disability Access Officer for Wirral WBC. The aim was to improve access for people who may need a bit of extra support to feel confident around the pool. Following consultation carried out by the Falls Prevention Team, it was found that those who were less confident on their feet felt uneasy on wet swimming pool floors and were fearful of falling. A number of facility improvements were made following this consultation with support from ES, extra grab rails, benches and shelving within the changing and shower areas were installed.
Pool programmes A review of swimming provision across all six pools in Wirral was undertaken, this involved the reorganisation of the educational swimming programme in Wirral. The previous school programme was deemed to be an inefficient use of programme time as it was evident that there was often 'lost' pool time when schools did not use their allocated slots. Consequently a new intensive education swim programme was developed, which aimed to benefit both school children and ES by freeing up extra pool space for new programmes and classes. The revised programme was rolled out from September 2008 and was also implemented at the Oval pool when it reopened in November 2008. As a direct outcome of this pool programme review, 37 hours of water space was 'unlocked' across 6 pools allowing a total of 22 new classes to be added to their daytime programmes (these included; 6 50+ sessions, 3 aqua jogging classes, 9 adult learn to swim classes as well as 4 disability swimming sessions.)
At this point, it is important to note that the Oval swimming pool closed for an extensive refurbishment in August 2007 and was initially scheduled to reopen in January 2008, however the refurbishment unfortunately took longer than planned and it did not reopen until November 2008. Due to the extensive overrun of the refurbishment, ES in Wirral was in a state of limbo because the potential pool time for ES in other centres such as Woodchurch leisure centre, Guinea Gap baths and Europa pools was being utilised by the Oval's swimming clubs whilst their pool was undergoing refurbishment.
Projects Many of the projects that were implemented were one-off promotional activities aimed at raising the awareness of what was on offer in terms of swimming activity across the Borough. The events were organised on the premise that if more people were aware of the opportunities available for those aged over 50 years, then this would be the necessary impetus to encourage people to participate or participate more frequently. The buddy scheme was launched in response to consultation results and was more of a long term strategy compared with other initiatives.
60+ Free Swims This scheme was running prior to the introduction of ES and is a separate initiative managed by Wirral Borough Council. There is a degree of overlap between ES and the free swim project. ES has benefited from additional promotional activity generated as part of the free swim scheme. The over 60's free swim customers were surveyed in January 2008 with the aim of understanding the motivations of swimmers to help inform ES activity. (See sub-group level data collection results). Launch In December 2007, ES Wirral was launched by Duncan Goodhew at Leasowe recreation centre. Free aqua jogging, aqua aerobics and adult learn to swim taster sessions were offered plus a grandparent and grandchild fun session. 35 people took part in the aqua aerobics and aqua jogging sessions. Unfortunately due mainly to the delayed reopening of the Oval, the launch did not actually signify the start of any new swimming sessions. As previously mentioned, the Oval was originally scheduled to reopen in January 2008, if this had been the case the launch would have led smoothly into the new sessions at the Oval as well as the other five pools. The reopening was further delayed to end November 2008, consequently the launch had taken place just under a year previously and therefore did not specifically signify a launch of any significant activity. As a result, there was a period of time where (with the exception of adult learn to swim classes which started earlier at Leasowe Recreation Centre and an aqua jogging class which was launched at Guinea Gap in April 2008), no new ES sessions were in place until September - December 2008. This was unfortunate because ES had to spend time re-engaging the interest of those that attended the launch in December once the new sessions did begin.
Over 50's Big Swim Week (10th - 16th March) The programme of activities organised during the Big Swim Week was well received, with over 250 attendances. The Big Swim Week included 20 free taster sessions for the over 50's across 5 of Wirral's pools. Activities included adult learn to swim classes, grandparent and grandchild sessions, aqua aerobics and aqua jogging. The aqua jogging and grandparent & grandchild sessions were two classes which were identified by a survey of 60+ free swimmers (34% and 60% respectively) as classes that they would like to participate in if they were on offer, as a result taster sessions were included in the Big Swim Week. The sessions aimed to gain the interest of people aged over 50 in swimming and encourage them to come along to the new sessions that were planned for the area. The Big Swim week was planned when Wirral MBC had been informed that the Oval would be reopening in April 2008, however this did not transpire and a gap in provision between the Big Swim Week and the introduction of new sessions (apart from the adult learn to swim class) was again unavoidable.
The Big Swim Week was promoted via a leaflet drop to 134,000 Wirral households, it also received coverage in the local media including articles published in the Wirral Globe, Wirral News and Daily Post.
Out of a total of 525 available places a total of 252 attendances were recorded (48% of available capacity). This accounted for 5% of total Elderly People (EP) swims for March 2008, a 5% increase in swims on March 2007. Perhaps more significant are the survey findings from primary research conducted with 161 of the attendees of Big Swim Week, which indicated that 50% of those interviewed had not been swimming in the last four weeks, that is, were not active swimmers as defined under Active People, further to this a third of respondents (33%) indicated that they could not swim 25m. It was also interesting to note that 22% of respondents stated that different pool opening / class times would motivate them to swim more often, with a further 21% stating that they would be more motivated to swim if they had a friend or buddy to swim with. As a direct result of these findings, ES in Wirral has reviewed and made significant changes to its pool programme and a buddy scheme was introduced in October 2008. Aqua jogging was by far the most popular taster session during the week, reaching 90% capacity, as a result of the popularity of the session during the week, the session was introduced into Guinea Gap pool only (although the launch was held at Leasowe, no new sessions were programmed there until September 2008), with further roll out once the Oval reopened in November 2008.
As part of the week, everyone who attended sessions were provided with a voucher which entitled them to a free swim, or free attendance at one of the new classes, out of 252 vouchers that were issued during the Big Swim Week, 108 (43%) people cashed in their vouchers and attended further sessions. There was very little other activity which took place to sustain the interest in these new swimmers prior to the new pool programme and implementation of sessions.
It is recommended that in order for these events to have a sustainable impact, they need to be more than 'one-off' events, and should be linked into a clear and structured programme of opportunities.
Buddy Scheme As a direct outcome of some of the results which came out of the Big Swim Week survey as well as the EP survey that was undertaken in March 2008, ES launched a swim buddy scheme. The surveys revealed that people in the Wirral would be more motivated and encouraged to swim if they had a friend or buddy to swim with. An advert was put out in local pools for volunteers to come forward as 'buddies' and commit 1-2 hours a week to the scheme to support new and often apprehensive adult swimmers within the 50+ sessions. A total of 18 individuals received training for the buddy scheme which began in October 2008. The newly formed 'buddies' were asked to complete a short questionnaire about why they decided to get involved in the scheme, below are some of the comments which were made:
One buddy noted that swimming had changed his life, following the amputation of both his legs, he explained that he has not only experienced the health benefits of swimming but also enjoyed the social aspects of swimming by meeting new friends. Bill explained "Now I am a swim buddy, I hope I can encourage others who may be dubious about swimming to overcome their doubts and take the plunge." Other comments included:
"I'm partially sighted but I enjoy swimming so much that I would like to help others who are not so confident in the pool" "I want to help people to swim so that they can experience the same benefits to their health as I have experienced. It can also be a great social activity." "I want to help others feel more confident in the pool environment, swimming is so fabulous, it makes you feel so fit and healthy. The buddy scheme is something meaningful to do with my time on a voluntary basis." As can be seen from the comments, the buddies hoped to increase the confidence of others in the pool, helping people to realise the benefits of swimming.
In order to evaluate the impact that the scheme had had on swimmers in Wirral, a survey was undertaken in February 2009. If more time had been available, this would have taken place at a later date as the scheme had only been running for a period of 4 months and was still very much in a state of infancy in terms of its progress and development. It was originally planned to distribute surveys at all swim buddy sessions during the week of 2nd February 2009, however this did not materialise and surveys were completed at the Oval and Guinea Gap sessions only with a total of 36 surveys completed.
Despite the limited number of completed surveys, of the 36 responses received to the survey over a quarter (27%) reported that the Buddy scheme had made a 'significant positive difference' to their swimming sessions, although 56% reported that the scheme had made 'no difference at all' to their sessions. Additionally, 67% of respondents reported that they were swimming more frequently than they were 18 months previously, with 68% of those identifying that this was due to ES activity and promotion in the Borough. Half of swimmers also reported that they also attend swimming sessions where there are no buddies present.
It would appear that these surveys only reached a small sample of people that may have interacted with buddies over the previous 4 months, therefore this scheme requires more detailed follow-up evaluation to further assess its impact.
The buddies were proving to make a positive difference to some of the new swimmers as revealed in the following comments:
"Although I can't swim, I am confident with the help of Kathy" "I enrolled to swim after not swimming for a number of years, the buddy scheme was extremely helpful to me in finding my feet and feel confident in the pool" "The buddies are very helpful and always cheerful making it easy to approach them, I hope the scheme will continue"
Health & Wellbeing Open Days ES teamed up with the Primary Care Trust - Falls Prevention Team to deliver Health and Wellbeing days. The sessions were ordinarily delivered by the PCT in the local community, but with ES on board these sessions were arranged at Wirral pools, to introduce older people to leisure centres. The sessions provided them with the opportunity to try out free aquatic taster sessions such as adult learn to swim classes, aquafit, aqua jogging and grandparent & grandchild sessions. Throughout the duration of ES in Wirral, a total of 5 health and wellbeing days took place. In April 2008 Guinea Gap Baths hosted an event linked in to their Centenary celebrations, which attracted 120 people. A very small sample of people (17) who attended the event at Guinea Gap Baths, completed a survey, which aimed to find out the reasons why people do not swim and what could motivate them to take up swimming on a regular basis. In total 8 people commented that adult learn to swim classes would be appealing to them and encourage them to take up swimming. As a direct result of this, direct promotion of the new adult learn to swim classes were targeted at the health and wellbeing open days. A total of 69 people took up the offer of trying one of the free taster sessions, 24 of these individuals redeemed their free swim voucher on a further separate occasion.
Workforce Development & Promotional Activity The aim of ES in these areas has been to invest in product development and promote increased opportunities (particularly learn to swim) through forums which will directly target over 50's in a non-intrusive manner.
Instructors in Wirral's swimming pools were among the first in the country to be trained in the delivery of aqua jogging fitness programmes. The course provided instructors with the skills to design and deliver safe, effective and balanced aqua jogging programmes and to evaluate the effectiveness of an aqua jogging group session. A total of eight instructors took part in the course and subsequently three classes are now held each week. In addition, the following instructors were also trained:
1 - Level One Swim Teacher
1 - Level Two Swim Teacher
4 - Fitness Swimming Teachers
4 - Aquafit Instructors
1 - Parent and Child Teacher
A half day course 'Through Others Eyes' was organised by the ES coordinator in partnership with Age Concern for 48 members of staff at Leasowe Recreation Centre and Europa Pools in March 2008. The course provided staff (from receptionists to lifeguards and instructors) with the opportunity to understand what it would be like to use the facilities if you were elderly or disabled. For example, staff were given different debilitative aids such as ankle weights which impede movement or goggles which distort vision and taken around the centre as if they were the customers. The aim of the course was to help staff to understand the hurdles that elderly and disabled customers face every day and therefore help staff to provide a better service to customers. The feedback from the course was very positive and included:
"It has given me a better understanding of disabilities that customers deal with on a daily basis. Sometimes it is not always obvious that someone has a disability but it's making sure I explain things clearly or ensuring that if a customer needs help, If I cannot assist I know I can get another member of staff to assist who is confident." Pat, Receptionist "We are constantly looking for ways to improve our customer care. The course provided a level of understanding and experience for staff above what normally could be hoped. The positive comments and motivation shown by staff following the course was impressive to see." Programme Development Manager. Media Exposure ES in Wirral benefited from media coverage of the launch, including an interview with the ES coordinator on Radio Merseyside which coincided with the Wirral Big Swim Week. The new adult learn to swim classes (which started in January 2008) also had coverage in the Wirral News (the local daily newspaper) generating over 30 enquiries to the ES coordinator and further enquiries at the swimming pools directly.
Bus Campaign To coincide with the reopening of the Oval in November 2008, ES launched a marketing campaign to advertise the reopening of the pool as well as to raise awareness of the new pool programme and classes that were on offer in the Wirral Borough. Adverts were displayed on buses on various local bus routes, the campaign ran on 20 buses over a 4 week period. As a result of the campaign Wirral pools reported over 200 enquiries from customers who had seen the advert on the buses. The campaign was originally scheduled for August 2008, but with the ongoing overrun of the Oval refurbishment, it was put back to September although the opening of the Oval did not actually take place until late November, therefore the campaign was advertising the reopening of the Oval 3 months before it actually reopened its doors to the public. There may have been some merit in the advertising campaign with the number of follow up enquiries, however it may be more advantageous to repeat the campaign now that the Oval pool is fully reopen and the new pool programme across the Borough is operational.
Supermarket Tour Following on from some consultation that was conducted during the health and wellbeing day events, ES and Wirral MBC identified that there was a need for more promotion of the adult learn to swim opportunities in the Borough as well as promotion of other opportunities that are on offer at Wirral pools, alongside the need to promote the improvements that have been made to the pools in recent years. To engage with the target audience of 50+ it was decided that some outreach work was necessary via a 'supermarket tour' across the Borough. The aim was to promote swimming activities from a stand located in the car parks of 5 different supermarkets on 5 separate occasions. Coordinators reported to have spoken to an average of 150 people per day about the activities and opportunities on offer at Wirral pools. Free swim vouchers were handed out to everyone who was spoken to and within one month 35% of these vouchers had been redeemed at the pools.
Summary of data collection: Community Level: Secondary analysis of Active People data shows us that within Wirral 12.3% of the population were regular swimmers (at least once every four weeks). Active People data was re-analysed in December 2008 to identify whether participation levels have increased at community level, there was a small increase (13.1%), however this was not statistically significant.
Facility Level: Throughput data has been used to measure increases in participation. It is worth mentioning at this point that the throughput data identified will include some 'experimental contamination' as the free swim initiative for over 60's started up before ES in Wirral was introduced this has independently had a significant impact on participation levels alone. Despite this the graph below identifies some positive results in terms of throughput for those aged over 60 years. Free swimming in Wirral was introduced in May 2006 (with figures increasing by 175% between 2005/2006 and 2006/2007 for elderly people free swims), there is evidence to suggest that ES has had a further positive impact on encouraging more older people to take up swimming or swim more frequently.
Throughput 60+ Free Swims (2006/2007 to 2008/2009):
Following the Big Swim Week in March 2008, throughput was up by 16% on the previous year (March - May) and although it is unlikely the increase is wholly down to the activity of the 'big swim week', it could certainly be an attributing factor to the increases in swims observed. Additionally there was an increase of 15.3% (September - November) following the introduction of the new pool programme and the bus campaign as well as the supermarket tour in July, which is again promising. When the ES programme came to a close at the end of March 2009, throughput was up by almost a quarter compared to March 2007. It is also important to highlight that from July 2007 through to late November 2008 the Oval pool was closed for a major refurbishment, it is therefore evident that despite this closure there were clear increases in throughput even before the pool reopened.
The graph below presents throughput figures for 50+ swimming activity (e.g. aqua, aqua jogging), it indicates that there has been a decline in 50+ swimming activity throughput since the ES intervention began, however what must be taken into consideration is at the same time there has been an increase in the uptake of the Invigor8 Leisure Pass which a number of adults subscribe to and therefore swimmers entering these sessions who hold one of these passes are not counted in the total 50+ Swim activity.
Throughput - 50+ Swimming Activity (2005/2006 to 2008/2009):
Programme Level: Grandparent & Grandchild Sessions
As a direct result of the findings from the research conducted with the over 60's in Wirral, 59.8% of those surveyed identified that they would like to participate in swimming with their grandchildren. Following the success of taster sessions which were offered during the Big Swim Week in March 2008, these sessions were subsequently added to the Wirral pool programme under the name 'aqua tots'. After having been promoted as 'grandparent and grandchild' sessions during the Big Swim week, some confusion may have been caused as they were rolled out wider under the name 'aqua tots'. Throughput figures identified that between April and September 2008, 284 individuals in the over 60's age group attended the aqua tots sessions.
Sub-group Level: A survey of the 60+ free swimmers was conducted by consultants Mott MacDonald between January - February 2008. The overall survey aims were to find out what people thought about swimming in Wirral as well as to try and understand what might encourage them to swim more often. Wirral citizens aged over 60 years have been able to swim for free in the Borough since May 2006 and therefore the survey was directly targeted at the 1500 registered users of the scheme. In total 795 (53%) responses were received to the survey. A summary of the results are reported below:
After free swimming was introduced in May 2006, less that a quarter (24.8%) of respondents said that they swam 'at least 4 times' in the last 4 weeks, 17.1% identified that they swam 'more than once a week'.
The swimming activity that was taken up by the largest proportion of swimmers in the previous 12 months was '50+ only lessons' (42%). One third of swimmers had participating in 'lane swimming' in the previous 12 months.
Over half of respondents (59.8%) stated that they would like to take part in 'grandparent and grandchild' sessions if it was made available in Wirral, additionally 34.3% of respondents said they would be interested in participating in aqua jog sessions. As a direct result of this taster sessions of both classes were organised during the Wirral Big Swim Week, with roll-out across the pool programme from September 2008 onwards.
The most commonly mentioned factor which would encourage respondents to swim more regularly was 'adult only sessions', mentioned by over half (57.9%) of those surveyed. Other commonly mentioned factors included 'better pool programming (opening times)' (40.9%) and 'cleaner pools' (29.3%). ES and Wirral MBC took these results on board and a review of the pool programme for the entire Borough was undertaken, consequently a revised programme with more adult only sessions was scheduled from September 2008.
In addition to the survey of 60+ free swimmers a study was conducted with non-swimmers to ascertain why they do not swim. The research was conducted via focus groups (again by Mott McDonald) with a selection of people aged 50+ from the Wirral citizens panel who had not been swimming in the previous 12 months. The findings from the focus groups revealed that in general the groups thought of swimming as a positive activity, despite not having been themselves in the previous 12 months. The groups described the main barriers for them as being caused by facilities provided and personal barriers such as health problems. To overcome these barriers they would benefit from increases in pool temperature, which was addressed at the Oval as part of its refurbishment as well as more sessions dedicated to the over 50's, this again was addressed through the review of the pool programme in Wirral. There was a consensus that the 60+ free swimming initiative was an incentive to take up swimming, but the barriers described were considered to be more important than price and therefore changes to the facilities were therefore felt to be essential in encouraging more people to engage in swimming activity.
Summary: ES in Wirral has made some progress in increasing participation by the older age group, despite the challenges faced in terms of coordinator recruitment and consequently the late start of the project. The scheduling of new projects and sessions also proved problematic due to the refurbishment of the Oval and the continued delay in its reopening. Notwithstanding these issues, some promising programmes have been established and are continuing post ES funding, such as the buddy scheme and the revised pool programme which includes a number of 50+ swim sessions and activities.