If, back in January, I had been told that our first wedding of the year was going to be in August, I would not have believed it.
The year started with immense promise for us, we were working full speed on the Eland Barn which was taking shape ahead of schedule, we had seen our busiest ever month for enquiries in January and we had 60 couples booked with us for their wedding this year. Emma, our new coordinator, had just joined the family and we were also undertaking a complete overhaul of our IT systems. 2020 was going to be the big one.
The frantic pace continued into early March as the Eland Barn approached completion and we were holding the final pre-wedding meetings with couples who were due to have their wedding with us soon. However, it quickly became apparent that the next few weeks were not going to pan out as we had hoped.
We watched in horror as the virus spread, moving from distant lands to our shores. The situation seemed to change overnight from an existential threat to something that was impacting every aspect of our lives. When lockdown was announced we knew weddings were going to be heavily affected. By their nature they are perfect for transmission of the virus, a combination of distant friends and family travelling, elderly relatives attending, hugging, dancing, and of course a certain amount of social lubricant all give ample opportunity for this tenacious virus to spread.
It is fair to say the first rush of postponements caught us somewhat off guard. “Unprecedented” must be the most overused word of the year, but this situation really was. The phone was ringing nonstop with understandably concerned couples asking about what would happen if they moved their date. Our initial priority was our April weddings and we, somewhat naively with hindsight, mainly moved couples back a few months to August. Incredible to think back in March we thought this would be done and dusted by now.
As we moved through April it became more and more apparent that this was not going to be over anytime soon and we needed a much better strategy for postponing weddings, this proved to be anything but straight forward. We had to consider:
- How to be fair to our 60 couples booked for 2020.
- Moving weddings in a structured way that did not lead to a free for all on dates.
- Protecting the investment we had made into the barns as a family.
Weddings are not easy things to move. With so many suppliers involved in the day, with friends and family travelling from overseas, and many couples relying on school holidays or bank holidays there are hundreds of moving parts to consider for each celebration. We struck on the idea of having a rolling 12-week process. 12 weeks before their wedding day couples could choose the “plan b” date which would need to be on the same day of the week as their existing booking and we would lock that in to be as secure as their own wedding date. They could then start the arduous process of contacting suppliers and moving their booking over. Then, up to 6 weeks before, we made a call with the couple to formally postpone their date.
One thing that surprised us was how different couples reacted to the lockdown. Some couples were in touch months ahead to move, other couples hung on to the very last moment in dogged determination to have their original date.
For us as a family moving weddings is a double-edged sword. We are fortunate that being a new venue we had the availability to move couples but every date we gave up was a massive opportunity cost to us. Each future date a wedding was postponed to was a potential new booking we could not take. Thankfully, couples understood that the situation was not of our making and were happy that we could accommodate new dates, especially after horror stories in the media.
Once we had a handle on our booked couples, the next challenge was how to show new couples the barns. Zoom came to the rescue here. We invested in a steady cam and we were able to give couples a tour of the barns from the comfort of their own home. This proved to be very popular, with several bold couples booking us from video tours alone!
As restrictions eased, we were able to restart socially distanced viewings. What surprised us was the mix of couples that came to see us and how the Corona virus had affected each differently. Some had planned to get married abroad, some had had their wedding cancelled and their current venue couldn’t accommodate them, and more couples were originally looking at 2021 for their wedding but were now looking at 2022 for fear that next year was going to be so busy. Happily for us, bookings went up significantly when we could start showing people the barns again.
As we head into August the question becomes what do the next 6 months hold? The easing on wedding restrictions to 30 guests is a small step in the right direction for us and we held our first wedding ceremony of the year on the 4th of August, but the number of couples who would be happy holding a wedding with such restrictions is minimal. It is also unclear at this point, with the R rate hovering around 1 and the looming threat of a second wave, how much further restrictions will be eased as we head into the winter. That leaves us in the unenvious position of rescheduling yet more weddings.
This is not the first year we had hoped for by any means, it has been hard on our couples who were booked for 2020 and as a new business hard on us as well. I am proud to say the feedback we have had from our couples has been overwhelmingly positive, here is to hoping 2021 is everything we hoped 2020 could have been and more!