Wedding venues across East Anglia are counting the cost as coronavirus restrictions continue to severely affect their businesses.
As of Monday June 21, a government cap of 30 guests was lifted – but regional venue owners say strict rules are still a huge headache and hiring is still a huge problem.
Landowners lobby group, Country Land and Business Association (CLA), which is part of the UK Weddings Taskforce’s wedding industry group, said the financial loss across the UK in 2020 alone was a devastating £ 7 billion.
New rules for weddings mean that numbers will be determined by how many people can be safely accommodated in venues with social distancing measures. Venues are required to conduct a risk assessment and other measures to prevent the disease from spreading.
Marquee tents or other structures in a garden must have at least 50% of the walled area open at all times to be classified as “outside”, there are still restrictions on dancing and singing – and there are requirements such as serving drinks at the tables instead the bar.
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David Graham, manager of Dunston Hall in Norwich, said the 166-room hotel has likely lost well over £ 2 million in the past 18 months due to the pandemic. “It’s been a very challenging year,” he admitted. “Every hospitality industry will undoubtedly have lost money in the past 18 months.”
Aside from the initial lockdown, the hotel stayed open but only hosted key workers during the lockdown.
While the lifting of the guest cap for weddings was to be welcomed, the events would still have to be held with greatly reduced capacity due to the restrictions, he added.
“There is frustration because everything is very confusing,” he said. While the bride and groom could take turns on the dance floor, everyone else had to stay seated at tables for six and tap their toes according to strict rules to prevent the infection from spreading. “One of the annoying things for many newlyweds is the restriction on dancing and singing,” he said.
Emily McVeigh, event manager at Kenton Hall Estate near Debenham, said the pandemic had hit wedding companies hard.
“It was a hot time for the wedding sector,” she admitted. “I think we’ll see a lot of closings after the last few announcements.”
Removing the cap actually caused more problems as customers were less aware of the other restrictions imposed, making it very difficult to host large weddings, she said. Serving at tables meant more staff – at a time when the hospitality industry was facing a recruitment crisis.
While she welcomed the easing of restrictions, she felt it would have been better to postpone a month and have an “all or nothing” situation rather than a stopover.
“We are in this gray area,” she says. “It’s a total minefield.”
Weddings for 30 people are just not affordable, she added.
The industry is now hoping that July 19th could bring some relief if conditions are eased as hoped.
This year, losses for the industry have continued to rise as around 320,000 weddings have been postponed or canceled since March 2020, the CLA said in an industry that generated £ 14.7 billion for the UK economy in 2019 and employed more than 400,000 people.