Parents have hit out at the council for not raising enough awareness about a free swimming scheme as figures reveal a lack of interest in using public pools among under 17s.

The city council funds a free swimming scheme but it is unknown amongst parents living in the area, according to parents who have got in touch with the Oxford Mail.

The pools where the scheme is eligible to youths include Barton Leisure Centre, Ferry Leisure Centre, Hinksey Outdoor Pool as well as Leys Pool and Leisure Centre.

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Oxford Mail: Swimming pool at Hinksey ParkSwimming pool at Hinksey Park (Image: Mark Lygo)

Parents said they have “forked out a lot of money” as they did not realise the scheme was available and have complained that access to family sessions is very difficult.

The council’s own figures for the percentage of under 17s making use of the scheme has shown the average take-up across all the eligible pools between July 2022 and April 2023 was only 13 per cent.

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Laura Gray, who has two nine-year-old twins, said: “Over the years, I’ve regularly taken my children swimming at the Fusion’s pools, and I could not understand why I had never heard about the scheme.

Oxford Mail: Parent Laura CraigParent Laura Craig (Image: Laura Gray)

“Fusion makes it very difficult to sign up for the scheme and the company desperately needs to provide a bit more common sense.

“Everyone in Oxford pays for the scheme through their council taxes so there should be greater take-up.”

For under-17s to be able to swim for free, the current system requires them to register first, which includes providing their address.

Ms Gray said the arduous registering system deterred many children who were eligible.

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At the Hinksey Outdoor Pool last August, only nine per cent of under 17s swam for free and at the Barton Leisure Centre last September again the figures were low, with only nine per cent of under 17s swimming for free.

One of the worst figures was that none of the 110 under 17s who swam at Ferry Leisure Centre last December went swimming for free under the scheme.

Eliza Hilton, the parent of a seven-year-old, said she used to take her child swimming regularly before the pandemic but since the lockdowns had finished she found it “very hard to get access to the pools”.

Oxford Mail: Parent Eliza HiltonParent Eliza Hilton (Image: Eliza Hilton)

She said: “I find the scheduling at the Leys Pool and Leisure Centre is extremely limited for those with small children.

“There is hardly any family swimming available and what is available is often at an inconvenient time.

“I really wasn’t surprised when I learnt the overall numbers for under 17s accessing the pool are very low.”

However, Ms Hilton said the staff at the pool were “lovely” and always “really friendly”.

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Free swimming was previously funded by the government but when this was scrapped the city council stepped in and it paid Fusion Lifestyle to continue running the scheme.

Chewe Munkonge, cabinet member for leisure and parks, said: “The city council stepped in to fund the scheme when it came to an end.

“The city council funded Fusion on the basis of them offering 10 hours a week of free swimming sessions.

Oxford Mail: The amount of under 17s swimming in Oxford pools is low according to council figures shared with the Oxford Mail The amount of under 17s swimming in Oxford pools is low according to council figures shared with the Oxford Mail (Image: George Munro)

"There are currently 72 sessions a week across the city that are available for U17s to swim in.

“To access free swimming, young people need to register with Fusion.

“They can then book and attend any of these sessions.

“Take up for this offer has been low since the pandemic.

“We are working with Fusion to streamline the process and increase take up."

Fusion has been approached for comment.