THOUSANDS of people turned out to sample some South Asian culture at the 10th Swindon Mela – but Saturday’s visitor numbers were down on last year’s due to heavy rain.

The Town Gardens, off Quarry Road, were transformed into a hub of culture, colour, food and dancing, with some 8,500 people in the 10,000-capacity park at peak periods – and 11,531 recorded as having passed through by 4pm.

But it is thought the intermittent sunshine and showers, plus rolls of thunder throughout the afternoon, put off some festival-goers, meaning numbers are expected to be nearer 18,000 to 20,000 rather than last year’s 23,000.

During the periods of monsoon-like weather, people whipped out their umbrellas as they watched live music and dancing on two stages, sampled South Asian cuisine, browsed stalls of Asian clothes and crafts, or tackled workshops such as sari tying or turban tying.

Bruce Clarke, a Mela organiser, said the rain was forecast to be torrential but the committee decided to press ahead anyway, so he was pleased it had turned out to better than expected.

“We’re thinking genuinely it’s a Mela miracle,” he said. “Because literally we thought this would be torrential rain. “But we believed that Swindonians would come out no matter what the weather and it turned out to be absolutely right. I think the weather has rewarded the Swindonian get-up-and-go.

“We expect the numbers will be slightly down on last year but that’s not a problem. Some people had read the warnings and didn’t have the spirit to come out anyway, and they’ve missed a fabulous day.”

Due to declining sponsorship, for the first time this year every adult was asked to make a £2 donation on the gate to build up a £10,000 reserve to prop up either this year’s event or next year’s, if either are not self-funding as hoped.

Bruce said organisers hoped to generate £10,000 in donations on Saturday, based on an estimated turnout of 23,000, with half of all adults donating £2. However, despite reduced numbers, he said many people were generous, and he thought this year would be self-funding, adding that organisers would have a whole year to make up any shortfall.

He said: “I would be surprised if we hit the £10,000, mainly because I don’t think we had those numbers of people in today. And the second thing is it’s the first time we’ve done this so it takes people a time to get used to the idea.

“We’ve just opened one bucket, it was mostly notes and in one bucket we had £800 and another was £200 so we really don’t know what we’re going to get yet.”

The final total is expected to be known today. The decision of whether to go ahead next year will be taken once the finances and feedback have been reviewed.