What a difference a year makes

There is a strange sort of silence at Harefield Barn.  From a couple of weeks ago until the Autumn, every weekend should have been full of the sounds of love and laughter as families gathered to celebrate one of the most glorious events in life - a wedding.

Instead the place is deserted, and we find ourselves dealing with a stream of worried and panicked couples trying to figure out how to deal with a situation which could not have been foreseen………..

Some years ago, we decided to use my former experience as an administrator and Registrar to create a very special diversification on our family farm, and Harefield Barn was born.  It has most certainly been a labour of love, and not a little stress, but we are extremely proud of the beautiful wedding venue that now stands looking out over spectacular views of the Devon Countryside.  Last year was our first season, and it was amazing to see everything coming to life just as we had planned. Having doubled the number of bookings for this year, we were looking forward to a very busy and exciting time, which should also have allowed us to start seeing a return for all our hard work and borrowed money.

Sadly, no-one quite knows how this season is likely to turn out, and we couldn’t feel worse for all the wonderful couples who we have got to know, and who have entrusted us with something as important as their wedding.

We are doing everything we can to support them through this time, as are the vast majority of wedding venues throughout the South West and beyond.  Unfortunately there has been some negative coverage about the very few venues that have taken a harder line, and we’re grateful to be given this opportunity to share some of the wonderful positivity that exists within the industry.

In our case as a new venue, we are lucky enough to have available space to offer postponements and alternative dates next year for our couples.  We are doing this free of charge, but of course the knock-on effect of this is that we will have far fewer possibilities to take new bookings, with the financial implications that brings.  Those of you who have been through the process will know, that if you are getting married at your venue you have to ‘give notice’ at a registration office.  Sadly this notice only lasts for a year, so if couples need to postpone for a long time, the notice process will legally need to be repeated.  For some of our couples this is very significant, so we have been pleased to be able to offer them the opportunity to have a tiny marriage ceremony with just a couple of witnesses, possibly ourselves, on the date of their original wedding (provided the Registration Service are able to attend at that point), and then I will use my experience as a former registrar to ‘recreate’ the wedding day they had originally planned in the form of a commitment ceremony when possible.

However, the more established venues are very unlikely to have the capacity to move weddings in this way, as with all their prime dates for next year already booked, their hands are tied.  Notwithstanding that, they are all still working their socks off to find suitable ways of looking after their clients.  They may not be able to offer an identical time of the week or even year, but they are certainly doing the very best they can, and often offering extras or price reductions to help soften the inevitable blow.

The bottom line is that we all need to work together, and that is exactly what the wedding industry is doing.  In her great article explaining more about the challenges that wedding venues are facing, Annabel from ‘Love My Dress’ explains that “weddings are an eco-system.  Couples need venues and suppliers as much as venues and suppliers need couples.  Everyone gets the best from each other when everyone understands each other’s positions”.  Do read her full article if you can at https://www.lovemydress.net/blog/2020/04/postponing-wedding-venue-perspective-coronavirus.html

We are a DIY type venue, so every one of our couples who have to postpone, also have to rearrange everything;  the Registrars, caterers and food vans, flowers, cake makers, photographers and videographers, dress makers, stylists, props, drinks, hair and make-up, and cars, let alone other visiting professionals such as wedding planners, magicians, musicians or photo booths.  All of these are likely to be small independent businesses, and all are now struggling to do their utmost to juggle their diaries to try and accommodate everybody, whilst struggling to survive.  It is a huge interconnected network of small pieces that come together as a whole, creating memories for couples and generating wealth within their region and beyond.  The South West has long been hugely popular for destination weddings, drawing people from all over the country; supporting the economy,  and taking those happy memories home to send more visitors our way.

We may be newcomers to this ‘business’ (although it sometimes seems strange to call it that), but it has been fantastic to see everyone uniting in the one purpose of keeping couples’ hopes alive, working in every way possible to make sure they still have the day of their dreams.

I follow a forum dedicated to wedding venues which currently has over 800 members, all sharing best practice and helping each other through this very testing time.  I can only echo the sentiments of Caroline, the owner of a venue in the Lake District who says

  • It is in no ones interest if venues are unable to continue to operate and;
  • As stated in the opening of the Love my Dress article, we are in ‘unprecedented times’, there is no parallel, no instruction manual and we are all trying to find the best way through this situation with fairness for all. We will all need to make sacrifices to achieve forward movement and we all may not hit the mark first time every time. Added to this is the huge uncertainty that exists. There are lots of scenarios being mooted, many by journalists hunting for a sensational headline, but in truth, there are very few facts out there to allow any form of plan to be put together. Patience and flexibility by all is the overarching message.

Through it all, the couples who have booked with us have been hugely supportive and understanding, so we would like to thank them sincerely for making what could have been absolutely dreadful a whole lot more bearable.

So please, may I finish by asking this. If you are a couple whose wedding plans have been affected by the measures put in place to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, or know of someone who has, please be patient, please be kind.  That whole interactive network that is the wedding ‘industry’, is doing its level best to help, and most of all, remember that when you do manage to celebrate your wedding – it’s going to be one heck of a party!

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