HUNDREDS defied the heavy rain to take part in Upper Parkstone’s first Christmas lights celebrations in living memory.

The continuing downpour on Saturday evening did not stop the arrival of Santa in a 1947 pick-up truck.

Town crier David Squire then led the countdown to the moment when Santa turned on the lights on the Christmas tree outside St John’s Church.

An estimated 400 people flocked into the church, where there was entertainment from Swing Unlimited, singer Ria and carollers from Sylvan First School. Many more enjoyed hot chestnuts and mulled wine under a gazebo provided by Oswald Bailey.

Richard Wilson, chairman of the Ashley Road Traders Association, said: “I’m over the moon. We didn’t expect as many.

“This has proved a big hit. If this doesn’t bring the community together, I don’t know what will. It’s absolutely tremendous.”

St John’s vicar the Rev David Price said: “It’s great to be a church in the heart of the community.

“The church is supposed to be a beacon and it’s great to open the doors and have everybody in.”

Politicians across the parties have supported the traders’ efforts to put up lights on the main Christmas tree and on miniature trees on the front of shops.

Poole council cabinet member Cllr Judy Butt praised the traders association and said: “I was always confident that we’d have this fantastic turnout. The children are great attractions and they’ve brought their parents.”

Council leader Elaine Atkinson and Newtown councillor Brian Clements were among those backing the efforts.

Former residents' association leader Jeff Williams said he was ‘almost in tears’ to see illuminations finally happen.

Parkstone also became the first place in Dorset to have a tree with Christmas baubles made from recycled beach litter.

Matilda Bark of Dorset Coast Forum said the idea had been part of the Litter Free Coast and Sea Campaign. The organisation had been put in touch with Parkstone traders by Poole council.

“I think it’s probably the first in the country that’s had baubles made from recycled litter,” she said.

“Most of these were things like plastic bags and plastic from bottles.

“It’s fantastic what they’re doing here. They were very supportive of the campaign.”