The 30-person limit for wedding guests is one of the few restrictions to be lifted on June 21, and it brings a welcome surprise to couples who have faced uncertainty about their big day for over a year.
Couples, suppliers and wedding planners have been anxiously waiting for the news as the future of summer celebrations looked less likely with the rise in Covid cases across the country.
However, in a press conference on Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that weddings could accommodate more than 30 guests, provided social distancing was continued.
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It was an unexpected relief for many people who relied on the final stage of the roadmap to get out of lockdown, largely postponed to at least July 19th.
However, some Northumberland venues said easing the 30 guest limit is still a long way from returning to business as usual – and for some companies the announcement came too late.
Richard Shell, CEO of the Doxford Group, which owns the popular Doxford Barns and Chatton Hall wedding venues, spent the hours following the announcement trying to figure out what that would mean for weddings in his venues.
“I sat at 6pm and listened to the prime minister’s announcement that weddings would be lifted, but it’s not that simple,” he said.
“Lifting the weddings limit of 30 is not what it seems, so when I looked at the announcement and examined it more closely, I found that it wasn’t all about singing and dancing.”
Richard stated that social distancing will still largely reduce the number of guests who can attend weddings.
The team is currently looking for “creative” ways to support guests and are considering options such as a video link for guests to watch ceremonies.
But Richard understands that the “finer details” of wedding restrictions will still disappoint some couples who have booked a wedding between June 21st and July 19th.
(Image: Doxford Group)
Richard said, “At weddings with larger numbers, we still can’t do that.
“For them this means moving dates with an already full wedding order into the future and it will be really difficult for us to find the dates couples want.
“We’re under that pressure again. The pressure we’ve lived and breathed since March 2020, when we had to postpone hundreds and hundreds of weddings, and today we’re unfortunately back in this place.”
He added, “The thing about weddings is that it’s a big supply chain. It’s not like a restaurant opens its doors and says, come in and eat with us.
“We have a lot of run-up to these events because the bride and groom, the bride and groom, the groom and the groom have to invite their guests and geographically they can come from far away.
“And just to say, the red pen has actually come out now, we have to cross our guest list and you have less than seven days to do it, that’s a big deal.”
Richard explained that couples are very concerned about whether or not they will all be able to receive their guests.
The couples are also disappointed that they have to sit down for aperitifs, “because that is not part of a wedding”.
“A big part of a wedding is mingling with people and now we’re being told that aperitifs have to be served at tables, which isn’t really conducive to the wedding our couples were hoping for,” Richard said .
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Richard said, “At the moment we’re trying to digest all the information, but the instructions allude to the fact that guests have to be seated to have their drinks and cannot come to the bar for a drink.
“That means we have to hire more staff to facilitate service and that is a cost that we have to bear.
“It’s not great when we’re trying to get ourselves back into a position where we’re profitable again, which we haven’t had in a few months due to government restrictions.”
He added, “It’s a struggle but we have to work with our couples to get through.
“We are used to hosting different events and being reactive, so we rise to the challenge and work by schedule and we will work for our brides and grooms to make sure their day is the best possible. “
Vicky Moffitt of Vallum Farm in Wallhouses has offered to those who are forced to get started with a smaller party when they later hoped for a bigger party with no venue rental fee.
But she has found that few people have taken up her offer, and lifting the 30 guest limit on weddings means most big days can now continue at full capacity, with social distancing still in place.
Vallum Farm will be able to host around 90 guests while the original capacity was 180 people.
(Image: Vicky Moffitt)
Vicky said, “Because we have a very large indoor venue, we can still all sit down with social distancing and then we have an outdoor teepee so we can use that venue.
“We also have a huge lawn and terrace that we can use after the ceremony, so we’re blessed with space.”
Vicky plans to serve beverage mugs for guests to limit the need for continuous table service and she believes there won’t be any major wedding restrictions at Vallum Farm other than wearing a face mask during the ceremony.
She added, “Much of the event will be spent outdoors and as long as people are sensible about which they will be sure the day will go on almost as usual.
“Before the announcement, I pretty much expected I wouldn’t be able to do anything, so the government at least allows people to exercise a little common sense, and I’m just glad people can be outside and we have more freedom. “
In Brinkburn, near Longframlinton, managing partner Mark Fenwick and his team have warned couples not to have more than 30 guests at any time this year, with the flexibility to increase the number if and when allowed is.
This “incredibly cautious” approach has allowed couples to live up to their expectations – but the business may not make a lot of money this year.
Mark also pondered the impact of the slowdown in the wedding business on the surrounding economy, particularly in rural Northumberland.
“The best example I can give is that we have three taxi services in the valley and we bring them on for a wedding on a Wednesday or Saturday,” he said.
“These taxi services have all closed while we were closed, they can no longer take care of themselves.
“We had a caterer who had to diversify, who couldn’t come back and do weddings because he had to do other business.
“It’s pretty important for small businesses – we’re a small venue, we only host 50 weddings a year, but we have an impact on the local economy.”