Hartlepool children turned away from free swims – because they didn’t use the free bus

FREE SWIMS: Popular if you get in
FREE SWIMS: Popular if you get in

A DAD took his two kids to the swimming pool to take advantage of FREE swims – only to be turned away as he hadn’t used the FREE bus to get there.

Steven Widdowfield drove to Mill House leisure centre with his two youngsters, but was shocked to be told children on the free hop-on service would be given priority ahead of anyone who had made their own way.

Staff said he would have to wait 40 minutes for the bus to arrive to see if there were any spaces available in the water, and warned him if the bus was full then he was facing another hour’s wait.

Steven, dad to Ben, five, and seven-year-old Kate, said: “It’s ridiculous. We could have got the free bus, but we chose to make our own way in the car.

“There was only me and the kids. Ben actually started crying when we couldn’t get in. It’s disgusting.”

The incident happened earlier this week, with Steven opting to take his own car to the baths from his home in Bishop Cuthbert rather than getting on the free bus which collects people from various primary schools around Hartlepool.

But swim scheme bosses at Hartlepool Borough Council stressed the pool is reserved for the free swims on weekday mornings and leaflets advertising the sessions clearly say priority is given to youngsters travelling on the free buses.

Steven, 38, said: “I went down at 9.45am but was told I would have to wait 40 minutes until the first free bus arrived to see if there were any spaces left.

“But the person behind the counter said the first one is normally full so I would have to wait for the next bus, which would be another hour.

“I don’t have a problem with the kids on the buses taking priority but when I said I was willing to pay they said I wasn’t allowed.

“I couldn’t believe I couldn’t pay to take my kids in the public baths.

“There weren’t many people in the pool at the time. It was just crazy.

“The issue is it didn’t state on the leaflet about the free swims that you couldn’t pay.”

The free buses pick up and drop off swimmers from every school across the town en route to the Mill House pool.

But Steven said it was more convenient to use his car as he had other things to do that day.

He returned with his children later the same day when Ben and Kate were able to swim for free.

But Steven had to shell out twice for car parking at £1.50 a time.

“I probably paid in parking what I would have done to pay for the kids to swim,” he said.

Despite the gripe, the council says the scheme, which also ran last summer, has been another big success with hundreds of children under 16 using the pool every day.

A spokesman said: “We made it very clear in the publicity that weekday mornings are dedicated to the free swims scheme and priority is given to those travelling on the free buses provided.

“We’ve had a great response again to the free swims scheme with around 330 children each day taking advantage of the offer.

“The pool is however open every weekday on afternoons and evenings for those who wish to swim at other times.”