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School water safety scheme gets £200,000 Commonwealth Games legacy funding

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21/03/2024

The first grants have been awarded from the West Midlands Combined Authority’s (WMCA) Inclusive Communities Fund with 150 projects sharing almost £5 million.

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands and chair of the WMCA, has announced that an extra £3 million is being put into the Fund so even more communities across the region can benefit from Commonwealth Games legacy money.

It means the biggest amount of Games legacy money to be given out in public grants is now even bigger – increasing from £9 million to £12 million.

One of the first grants to be awarded is £200,000 to Active Black Country for water safety lessons for thousands of school children, teaching them how to stay safe around water and vital survival skills if they get into difficulty.

The WMCA is funding the scheme in response to an annual school swimming survey by Active Black Country that showed last year just half of primary school leavers across Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton were unable to self-rescue in water - despite nearly all children living within walking distance of open water.

Being able to self-rescue is defined by swimming organisations as the ability to float on the back for a minute, tread water while waving and shouting for help, and swim for at least 15m.

Across the West Midlands, there were 63 accidental drownings between 2018 and 2022 - around one in five were under the age of 18 years old, which is double the national average.

Thanks to this substantial grant from the WMCA, Active Black Country will work alongside local authorities, leisure operators and aquatics partners including afPE, the Canal and River Trust, RLSS and Swim England to develop a programme of lessons in and out of the water for 80 schools alongside community family sessions.

Thousands more in the area will get access to a new water safety website which will have resources for teachers, parents and community groups.

The Mayor said:

“Right from the moment the West Midlands was chosen to host the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, I was very clear that the Games must leave a lasting legacy at grassroots level.

"That’s why I’m delighted to be announcing that we’ve added another £3 million to the Inclusive Communities Fund to ensure as many people as possible can benefit.

“Almost £5 million is already making its way into the hands of local people, including this £200,000 to teach vital water safety skills to thousands of school children across the Black Country.

“Too many young people tragically die each year from drowning. This vital training will not only help save lives and also teach young people how to enjoy the water safely.

“We’ve got hundreds more applications for Commonwealth Games legacy money and the awards panel is meeting on a weekly basis to get this money handed out as quickly as possible.”

Amanda Tomlinson, chair of Active Black Country, said:

“We are delighted to receive this funding which will enable Active Black Country and partners to deliver this key lifesaving programme to children across the Black Country.

“The funding will enhance the excellent work already being undertaken by afPE, the Canal and River Trust, RLSS and Swim England ensuring we are able to create a future generations or children who not only are safe but enjoy being in and around water.

Sports Minister Stuart Andrew said:

“The record-breaking Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022 was a great success, bringing in millions of pounds to the local economy.

"The £70 million games underspend will create a lasting legacy in the region for generations to come, and this water safety scheme will do just that by giving children at 80 schools in the West Midlands a skill to last a lifetime."

The Inclusive Communities Fund was set up to help to ensure the positive and long-lasting legacy from the 2022 Games is felt right across the region by supporting locally led projects that will unite communities across the West Midlands and promote the benefits of being more physically and mentally active.

The money is being made available for the benefit of local people after the Government agreed to invest the £70 million Games underspend back into the region following successful negotiations led by the Mayor and the WMCA.

Tina Costello, chief executive at Heart of England Community Foundation, said:

“I’m delighted to announce one of the large grants made possible through the Inclusive Communities Fund.

“The school water safety scheme is a fantastic and vital initiative to improve water safety for children across the Black Country. I hope this offers a real opportunity for children to learn new skills and understand more about water safety which will ensure positive outcomes for their futures.”

Cllr Kerrie Carmichael, WMCA portfolio lead for inclusive communities and leader of Sandwell Council, said:

“It’s exciting to see the first grants being awarded from this very special fund that will make positive changes to our communities for many generations.

“The water safety lessons that the programme will provide to school children across Sandwell are a great example, with the potential to have a significant impact over the course of their lives. It will also mean more will have the confidence and ability to enjoy the fantastic swimming facilities that we have at the Sandwell Aquatics Centre – a flagship legacy of the Commonwealth Games.”

Lee Heard, director at the RLSS, said:

“Less than two years ago the world watched some impressive performances of swimmers from across the UK home nations, just here in Sandwell.

“In contrast, community members from across the Black Country are included in an increasingly worrying narrative where access to water safety training and swimming, including statutory swimming provision through the PE National Curriculum, are reducing, and at a more alarming rate for some communities, especially lower socio-economic and ethnic minority groups.

“It is fitting that the legacy of an incredible Commonwealth Games, through the Inclusive Community Fund, is the catalyst for a project that will undoubtedly save lives and enhance opportunities for those most in need. The charity is delighted to offer its support and expertise.”

The additional money for the Inclusive Communities Fund has been provided to the WMCA by Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC). The additional funding will be used to address a backlog of applications to the fund. It is not anticipated that the fund will open to new applicants.

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