Parents in Lewis are taking their children to Harris for swimming lessons, as Stornoway is struggling to keep up with the demand for free lessons as part of the ‘Slainte Mhath’ scheme. 

The second of a series of meetings took recently with Scottish Swimming – the national governing body for the sport - with the aim of streamlining access to lessons across the islands. 

Such is the popularity of the swimming lessons, there is currently a waiting list at Ionad Spors Leodhas.

Tony Wade, Sports Facilities Services Manager, said: “As part of our Slainte Mhath programme we offer two blocks of swimming lessons a year per child. 

“That is a great incentive for some families to get free lessons where normally it would be quite an expensive proposition, but it has its plus points and minus points. 

“For us here in Stornoway, we have a catchment of 20,000 children, while Tarbert has a catchment of 2,000 children. 

“It creates significant issues for us in terms of managing the numbers of people who are trying to access our swim programme here in Stornoway.”

Discussions are already underway with Scottish Swimming to see how the Western Isles facilities can link in with their recently announced ‘Learn to Swim’ framework.

“We would hope that would make the whole process smoother,” said Tony. 

“Tarbert are able to do things Stornoway can’t, because they have capacity we simply do not have. 

“Parents who would be on a waiting list in Stornoway have decided that they are prepared to make the drive to Tarbert to make sure their kids aren’t on a waiting list, which they would be here. 

“In one sense that is positive, because it is making good use of a great facility and other additional facilities, but obviously it’s not ideal. 

“In a perfect world we would like people to access these lessons on their doorstep.”

Part of the national review into swimming lesson provision will look at offering early years lessons, as well as the ‘Learn to Swim’ programme.

“Again, we cannot currently do that here because of capacity, whereas Tarbert can,” said Tony. 

“It’s a complex piece of work because in Stornoway we have one pool that has to meet all the demands of people wanting to swim recreationally, the NatWest Islands Games team need access to develop the talent of their swimmers, people are wanting to swim in lanes, we have the very popular swimming club, Swim Western Isles, and there are aquafit classes . 

“And we also support pool access for pupils at the Nicolson Institute and teaching many Primary schools.

 “It’s a massive juggling act trying to keep everyone happy.”

Meanwhile, gym users in the Western Isles are in for a nice treat, as the Comhairle prepares to invest £340,000 to replace equipment in all four island sports centres. 

“This is a huge capital investment and it is fantastic news in the current climate,” said Tony.

“The last upgrade was done in partnership with the NHS, so the equipment fitted in 2010 was funded by NHS money.

“We are really delighted that the Comhairle has made this important commitment to public health over the coming years, combining top class facilities with the cheapest access scheme of its type in Scotland.”

It is hoped that the new machinery will be installed in Western Isles gyms by the end of the summer. 

Added Tony: “Although prices will increase for the first time in 6 ½ years, we are still the cheapest scheme of this type in the whole of Scotland.”