A BID to set off 1,000 coloured balloons to raise money for a children s playground went ahead on Saturday - despite the group s marquee collapsing on top of them in a thunderstorm. The group, from Alconbury Weston, had already inflated 800 of the balloon

Despite the disaster the balloon race gets going on time at 4pm – Pic: STEVE LOMAS

A BID to set off 1,000 coloured balloons to raise money for a children's playground went ahead on Saturday - despite the group's marquee collapsing on top of them in a thunderstorm.

The group, from Alconbury Weston, had already inflated 800 of the balloons with helium when calamity struck just an hour before the planned lift-off.

The supporting poles in the marquee "gave way like a row of dominoes" according to Jo Harvey, spokesman for the Recreational Equipment Committee (REC) group. They are trying to raise £20,000 for play equipment for the village.

She said: "There was creaking, shouting, and everyone started counting the children.

"In the end, we just had to escape. We were on target with 825 balloons ready when the heavens opened, the marquee collapsed on top of us and the balloons. We just had to leave them there.

"When we felt the first drops, no one was worried about the rain or the thunder. The lightning seemed a little close for comfort but we thought our four o' clock deadline to release the balloons was still achievable.

"After all, what is a spot of rain? But no one could have predicted the strength of the winds and the chaos."

She added: "We had all worked so hard in the month running up to the event and everyone in the village really liked the idea. We sold the balloons for £1 each with a prize of £50 for the one that went the furthest. The initial costs for the balloons, the gas and the holding nets were met by local businesses."

The team of 15 volunteers was obliged to abandon their project in a field off Buckworth Road and take shelter half a mile away in The White Hart pub, where they waited about 45 minutes until the rain had stopped.

Mrs Harvey said: "Once the storm had calmed down, Jaq Pearce, whose idea it all was, led us back to the field and we found the 825 balloons all safely wrapped in the marquee - so we released them - on time around four o' clock. There were still 200 balloons left so later that night, we went back to The White Hart and let those off too, in a much more sedate and leisurely manner."

INFORMATION: The REC balloon race was sponsored by Thorneycroft, farm equipment specialists in Alconbury Weston, Roland Ash silver and goldsmiths in Alconbury, Edmundson Electrical from St Neots and Keenscreens, windscreens, Chawston. The next fundraiser for REC will be a party in the park at the park in Highfield Avenue, Alconbury Weston, on August 19 with free entry, stalls and a barbecue.