An upmarket wedding planner says the multi-million pound wedding industry is under threat because the Government are treating brides and grooms’ big day as a frivolous and unimportant.
Jessie Westwood is involved in a national campaign to try and save the industry which is being decimated by coronavirus restrictions which limit the number of guests and control the ceremonies.
And like the beauticians before them, Jessie and many other wedding planners believe their industry is being ignored by politicians because it seen as feminine pursuit with a largely female workforce.
Those behind the campaign say the recent trend to paint women planning their weddings as crazy “bridezillas” fuels a perception that big, lavish ceremonies are something to be mocked rather than a union to be celebrated.
As a result stressed-out couples, who have often saved for years to cover the £30,000 average cost of a big white wedding, are unsure whether to sit tight and hope the restrictions will ease or postpone or cancel their big day they have spent a long time planning.
Many feel too embarrassed to say how upset they are in case people think not having their dream day seems trivial but there are serious issues such as loved ones not living long enough to see them married, say the industry.
Earlier this week Boris Johnson outlined new measures to try and get the country back to normal by Christmas but it means local authorities will new powers to impose local lockdowns if there is a spike, which could force couples to cancel already postponed weddings at the last minute.
Lack of certainty has not only had an impact on couples and the wedding venues that have mushroomed in recent years to cater for the growing number of people from at home and abroad who want to marry in the Cotswolds, but thousands of creative businesses.
Artisan dressmakers, cake-makers, caterers, make up artists, hairdressers, photographers and musicians are among the many who have seen their business disappear, not to mention firms that hire out everything from fairy lights to the furniture.
It has taken Jessie ten years of “hard work and determination” to build up the international wedding business Studio Sorores which she runs with designer and florist Georgia Westwood.
“The industry sometimes receives negative press and is often portrayed as frivolous or money grabbing, but the cultural significance of weddings is huge and the industry is a valuable and diverse employer across the UK.,” she said.
“There is little judgement around someone buying a new car or going on an expensive holiday for example, but you see plenty of people mocking those who choose to spend the same on a milestone celebration with all their friends and family together.
“I don’t think the policymakers or the general public understand the industry. It’s mostly made up of small businesses, freelancers and sole traders, who are talented, creative, ethical and serious about what they do.
“It’s not all big business out to make a fast buck. We really care about what we do. It’s normal people paying their taxes, looking after their families and doing their best to get by like everybody else at the moment. “
She said almost 100 per cent of her clients have rejected a coronavirus or socially distanced ceremony, postponing their weddings until 2021.
“It’s unfortunate that there have been a few venues who have acted without empathy and tarnished the industry with negative press attention, because all of the venues and suppliers I deal with have been incredibly supportive in extremely challenging circumstances,” she said.
“Businesses have worked incredibly hard to move their clients dates without penalty where possible, and some have refunded deposits for cancellations even though they are struggling as small independents and don’t have the cash reserves to continue doing so without suffering severe financial hardship.”
Although the bigger venues are pushing to open because they charge a flat fee regardless of how many guests, many couples are unhappy about going ahead because the restrictions mean they can only invite 30 people and ceremonies include rules such as no music.
Caterers and other suppliers that charge per head say receptions of just 30 people are unsustainable and the reduced numbers ignore the fact that Jewish and Asian couples have big celebrations for hundreds of friends and family members..
Although big weddings are seen as danger points for coronavirus because people tend to drink, dance, hug and kiss, Jessie says they are also perfect for track and trace because all guests are invited and are known to the bride and groom.
“This can’t continue, we need some clarity,” she said.
“Other industries have had roadmaps of what the Government expect to do and when, but all we have at the moment is basic guidance on a small ceremony only, with many restrictions in place.
“We have not had a stimulus or support package and nobody can tell us what is likely to happen and when. We are being left in limbo and it’s a nightmarish situation for us and for our clients.
“I feel like part of the reason our industry is being ignored is because it is largely run by women for women, and not taken seriously as a career. We need to change the narrative because weddings and the wider events industry are worth around £70 billion to the British economy and over 700,000 jobs are at risk.”
The mobile bar company
Will Spiers, 37, from Naughton in the Cotswolds built up The CamperVin company business supplying mobile bars to parties ranging from weddings to big corporate events from 27 bookings a year in 2013 to 200 bookings last year.
It is not financially worthwhile bringing his converted VW camper vans, horse trailers and classic cars to events of less than around 100 people but still has to fork out for storage, maintenance and keeping all the official red tape up to date.
“My business has been decimated by the Covid-19 virus and I have fallen through almost every gap for support,” he said.
“It’s been absolutely savage. The worse thing is the uncertainty. We are basically a mobile pub but while the pubs have been able to get grants, had their rates waived and allowed to open, we are still getting absolutely hammered.
“We are worth billions of pounds to the economy but we are being treated as if we are insignificant and being forced to fend for ourselves. “
Videographer Mike Sheldrick invested heavily in equipment after his fledgling part-time business Too Moo Films started gathering momentum but the lockdown came one week before his second wedding of the year which was cancelled outright.
All but one of the others have now been postponed to next year but Mike had not been operating long enough to claim any financial support from the government and says it’s impossible to plan ahead when the Government are not even hinting at what is come.
“With no real advice on when venues and receptions can begin to reopen, this industry on the whole has been left in limbo,” said Mike who luckily hadn’t packed in his main job.
“I know many of my fellow colleagues have suffered massively as a result of this crisis. At this stage we also wonder if any of the events planned for next year can even take place. “
Cheltenham based Bimla Jackson of Bimlabee Productions has seen turnover plummet from £300k to £4k this year for consultancy work alone and has decided to focus on private weddings and events because the large-scale corporate parties and conferences that she used to produce are unlikely to come back until at least September next year.
She said: “A road map for the weddings and events industry is in demand, quite rightly, to support the thousands of industry specialists such as myself who are at risk of going under after so many years of hard work building up their businesses.”
The wedding website Lovemydress says their surveys show stressed out couples are being made to feel that their wish for ‘their day’ is somehow “frivolous, pointless and utterly vacuous” and are urging people to put pressure on the Government to act before the parliamentary summer recess starts on July 22.
They point out that the wedding industry is said to be worth £10 billion but it is seen as the gateway to the larger events industry of conferences, corporate events, exhibitions and festivals,” says the blog which is mobilising all the small traders.
“For too long, we’ve sat by and watched brides turned into ‘bridezillas’ and become something to mock.,” it said.
“We’ve allowed wedding businesses to be seen as fluffy, lightweight hobbies …….. We have had enough of being forgotten and written off as something ‘not important’ – as lavish and unnecessary. There are quite literally thousands of livelihoods at stake. Many business owners are worried about how they are going to feed their children and pay basic bills.”
Gloucestershire County Council says 1,500 of the 2,000 couples forced to cancel because of the Covid-19 lockdown have now been given new dates for their ceremonies but they cannot take on new weddings until they have dealt with the backlog.
Officials are working with 100 approved premises to ensure they are Covid-19 secure before ceremonies start again but many couples hoping for a big day don’t want to have weddings with so many restrictions and just 30 people.
Councillor Dave Norman, cabinet member for registration said: “We ask that people bear with us while we process those who were impacted by the Covid-19 crisis first. This is the only fair way to deal with this. “