Love unlocked: 'All hands to the pump' in preparation for wedding boom

(L-R) Beth Haxby, Richard Hughes and Melanie Sturman on the news weddings can recommence with guests this summer. 

(L-R) Beth Haxby, Richard Hughes and Melanie Sturman on the news weddings can recommence with guests this summer. - Credit: Salsabil Morrison/Archant/submitted

Thousands of couples in Norfolk have been waiting patiently to tie the knot - some rebooking their ceremony two or even three times. 

But the date has been marked, and the phones have been ringing off the hook at venues, caterers and wedding cake makers. 

The supply chain for the wedding sector was "surprised" by how quickly things would get up and running, said Richard Hughes, the proprietor of the historic Norwich venue, restaurant, hotel and cookery school the Assembly House. 

Mr Hughes said: "It's been absolutely mad - we're getting towards being solidly booked up for weekend and mid-week weddings which is hugely positive news. 

"This is because of a combination of factors: people who had already booked and have rescheduled two or three times and people who fell in love during lockdown and can't wait to get married. 

"Of course, people can only have a limited number of people at their ceremonies in May so we're actually seeing people book two events, a smaller one for the ceremony and then a bigger party later in the year. We've just had a booking for 150 people in September which seems crazy to be able to say."

As well as investing £200,000 in new rooms for the Assembly House Mr Hughes has also launched a recruitment round for 12 front of house and waiting staff. 

He said: "We want to be ready to go as soon as we can reopen in May. We're so busy across hotel bookings, meals and events that we need to have our ducks in a row."

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He said he is "nervous" at the speed with which the events sector could reopen: "It does seem a bit crazy that they're saying we could have no restrictions by June.

"There will be a lot of people wondering if this truly is the last lockdown, but we no one's in the position to turn bookings down so we just have to hope for the best."

Wedding cake maker Beth Haxby, of Stoke Holy Cross, similarly pointed out concerns with Boris Johnson's roadmap: “It’s really nice for us to have some concrete plans in place, to give our couples confidence to go ahead with their wedding plans.

“But a lot of people within the wedding industry are wondering how we can allow indoor events with up to 1,000 people but not allow weddings of more than 30 people.

“Overall I felt relief when the roadmap was released because I know in the near future, I will be making wedding cakes again. We can push on with restrictions for a bit longer if it means that we are going to normal from June 21."

She added that instead of making her usual 40 cakes a year, she has instead averaged around a dozen: “The whole of the wedding industry has been waiting with bated breath. Even when we could do weddings at certain points last year, they were so strict with numbers.

“It’s been a big financial hit. Celebration cakes have kept my ticking over and provided a bit of income, but it is nowhere near the same income that I was projected to have last year with wedding cakes.”

As a result a wedding caterer, which has had to flexi-furlough its 50 staff, has called for hospitality support to be extended to the wedding supply chain. 

Jake Florentina, founder of Watton-based Florentina Events, said: “The government has helped every business who is affected in terms of grants and through the furlough scheme, and the VAT deduction throughout the whole hospitality sector to 5pc has been a real benefit.

“But although we are classed as a hospitality venue, we have not had the same support as what a restaurant would have.

“The ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme saw restaurants ram-packed to the rafters, but we didn’t have that.

“They’re fully booked whereas if a wedding which would normally have 200 guests can only have 30, I’ve lost 170 persons-worth of income based on government restrictions.

“So however nice it might be that weddings are allowed to go ahead, in terms of income I’m down for every single wedding for as long as restrictions are in place in the wedding industry, and there is no support for that loss.”

Lockdown brides still unsure over summer date

Melanie Sturman is one such bride who said the novelty of trying to get married during a pandemic has worn off. 

The NHS worker originally began planning her wedding more than two years ago, and was due to get married the day before her 50th birthday in August last year. 

She said: "I was worried I wasn't going to get into my dress! Luckily I tried it on recently and it still fits - but the novelty of postponing it all has definitely worn off. 

"We haven't lost too much money compared to other people, I've asked one of our vendors to donate the money to charity. 

"We're planning on having about 45 people for the meal which will be at The Mulberry in Thetford. To be honest we're still really nervous about whether or not it will even happen. 

"It's been a shame because so much of the stuff you look forward to - buying your rings and stuff like that - has had to be done online."

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