Some of Northern Ireland’s premier wedding venues have urged the executive to set clear criteria for reopening after a year of heavy losses to the industry.

Sarah Mackie of Larchfield Estate in Lisburn shared how the venue “went from fully booked and successful to devastation in 12 months”.

The northern wedding industry has seen over 90 percent business losses over the past year due to lockdowns and restrictions that are reducing the number of wedding guests and the capacity of the venues.

In pre-pandemic times, the wedding sector contributed £ 250 million to the Northern Irish economy. Around 8,000 weddings take place every year.

But venues and vendors are now working 10 percent with a ceiling of 25 guests for ceremonies per wedding only.

Hopefully, in the third phase of the executive’s plan, receptions will return from the lockdown.

However, wedding operators and vendors are urging the executive to establish clear criteria for reopening, including indicative dates and information about the dates needed to inform about the size and scope of venues opening.

Ms. Mackie said, “Without a doubt, this has been the toughest year for our business.”

“The wedding industry is only operating at 10 percent of its usual capacity right now, and this has a significant impact on specialized wedding companies like ours down to small suppliers,” she said.

“Many exclusive, non-hotel wedding venues were not eligible for government funding, and some had not received a single penny.

“We ask for parity on this front.

“There is now an urgent need to clarify what data will be needed for the reopening steps so that we can plan the best way to reopen and restore in the safest way that would be profitable for our business.

“Weddings take time to plan and precision is required to ensure our customers have a memorable day.

“The speed of the vaccination program is commendable. Now is the time for the recovery plan to go into effect and for companies like us to start doing the right thing again.

“The executive must now give us some indicative reopening times so that we can begin this process.”

Emma Donaghy of the Old Rectory, Killyman, outside Dungannon in Co Tyrone, said the executive branch “needs to provide hope and guidance for the sector’s next steps to plan the recovery”.

“A reopening date would be a start,” she said.

“As with many companies, a clear policy is needed to reopen the wedding industry. The industry can no longer wait in hopes of reopening dates.

“We need firm clarity about when we can reopen and how this can be done. Livelihoods and marriages count on it.”

Colm Shannon of the Newry Chamber of Commerce said other retailers associated with weddings are suffering as well.

“Jewelers play a key role and are currently excluded from the click and collect system,” he said.

“There are the many florists, fashion boutiques, hairdressers and men’s outfit stores that depend on the wedding business at this time of year.”

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