12,000 guests demand answers as Shuttleworth's Great Balloon Race is cancelled

'Shocked' organisers say refunds should be paid by end of October

By Joanna Gravett
Friday, 10th September 2021, 3:22 pm

Around 12,000 guests have been left feeling deflated and demanding answers following the controversial last-minute cancellation of the Great Balloon Race, which had been due to take place at Shuttleworth this weekend.

The event, organised by Bloon and hosted by Shuttleworth, was set to be held from Friday to Sunday (September 10-12), having already been postponed from June due to the pandemic - that was until statements were released on Monday (September 6) announcing its termination.

But a dispute has broken out as to why the event has been cancelled.

Were you planning to attend?

The Central Bedfordshire Safety Advisory Group (SAG) said it could not support the event because documents required from Bloon were not received in time and it was too short notice before this weekend's event. Bloon disputes this and says they believe the documentation was handed in within the timescales required.

A statement from the Shuttleworth Trust said it had withdrawn its venue as a site for any future event "after requests for a further postponement"..

The cancellation of the event has meant that customers looking forward to the event have been left disappointed.

Ruth Wylde, of Marston Moretaine, told us: "We bought the tickets for our 20th wedding anniversary. They were the £120 ones which is the middle rate - you'd get a five by five metre plot with a picnic bench for six guests. But some people will have spent thousands on champagne flights and meet the crew options.

"Then they postponed it [from June], saying that it was because Covid restrictions wouldn't be lifted until July. But I couldn't see why - it was supposed to be Covid friendly?

"On Monday [September 6], I thought I would ring Shuttleworth, as I wanted to ask about blue badge parking, but they said no, no, I'd need to contact the organisers.

"Afterwards, an email banged in my inbox from the balloon company that said they were having to postpone the event because the Beds Safety Action Group had refused to give certificates for the event."

A statement issued by Bloon earlier this week stated: "Following communication today (Monday 6th September) we have received notification from Bedfordshire Safety Advisory Group (SAG) that they are unable to support the event as they do not have time to review all of the event information supplied to them."

The statement said that Bloon believed they had submitted the documentation in the timescales requested.

Event director of the Great Balloon Race, Adam Faulkner, told the Chronicle: "At no point were the Great Balloon Race looking to cancel the event. We were surprised by the decision of SAG but proactively sought a solution to avoid disappointing the thousands of customers who had booked."

He said they were currently in discussions with Shuttleworth over the cancellation and the fee he said they had paid to hire the venue.

Following the cancellation, there was some speculation on social media about the integrity of the event.

Mr Faulkner said: "I can categorically state that the Great Balloon Race is not a scam. We were working with many other businesses and artistes to stage this event – and others across the country

"We have staged two commercial events on the Isle of Wight this summer and an event last year."

He said all tickets would be refunded.

"All customers have been emailed and informed they will be processed automatically in accordance with the ticket terms and conditions. This will be within 30 days from the end of the month when the event would have been held. There is no need to contact us," he said.

"We have been processing refunds all summer and to date have refunded more than £200,000. We now have to unexpectedly process refunds for this event – having already paid out to suppliers - and also liaise with our insurers.

"If customers have not received a refund by end of October then email [email protected]"We are incredibly disappointed that we have been unable to stage this event and apologise to all of our customers."

Central Bedfordshire Safety Advisory Group issued a statement to the Chronicle: "Due to the event organiser’s failure to comply with the regulatory authority guidance and late submission of their event documentation, The Safety Advisory Group (SAG) was unable productively engage with them at such short notice to. For this reason, it was considered the risk to public safety at this stage was too high and SAG was therefore unable to support the event. The event organiser was immediately informed of this.

"All relevant safety documentation should have been in place for the June event. As this was cancelled, revisions should have been made to any documentation to bring it up to date for the September event."

The spokesman pointed out that SAG's role was purely advisory.

He said: "SAG is a non-statutory free advisory service and as such cannot stop an event from taking place but only offer professional advice to all parties to minimise risk to public safety at events. The final decision to cancel an event would be between the landlord of the premise on which the event is being held and the event organiser."

A spokeswoman for The Shuttleworth Trust said the event was due to be held in June but was postponed to September.

The spokeswoman claimed that a further request was made to postpone the event and the Trust had then taken the decision to "withdraw its venue from consideration for the future date".

"We understand that the promoter has subsequently decided to refund ticket holders for this year’s event.

"We understand that this will be very disappointing to the many people who were expecting to come to Shuttleworth this weekend. Ticket holders should contact the promoter, Bloon Events, in the first instance, to keep informed about the future date for the event - [email protected] and [email protected]"Anyone wishing to contact the Shuttleworth Trust event team for advice and support should contact eve[email protected].

"The Shuttleworth Trust has a history of running large and successful events over many years.

"The Great Balloon Race is a third-party event that was being run on a venue hire basis. The Shuttleworth Trust has no responsibility for the content, production or ticketing of the event outside its statutory responsibilities as the venue owner."

The Shuttleworth Trust Executive Director Rebecca Dalley added: “The Great Balloon Race was a super concept for a Covid-secure event and we were pleased to be able to offer it a venue while our own Events Calendar was limited. Our Events Team has been supporting the promoter for over a year to provide a safe event environment for an event that offered such a great experience. We wish Bloon Events every success in holding the event elsewhere."

What do you think of the situation? Email [email protected]