Many rural businesses in the East of England have diversified their traditional farming enterprises to broaden their assets, with some taking the route of transforming redundant farm buildings and barns into spectacular wedding venues.
All sectors of hospitality have been battered by the impact of Covid-19 and the subsequent restrictions that have adversely affected their businesses. However, the wedding industry, which is worth £14.7bn a year in the UK, has often missed out on the raft of financial packages, with support not tailored to their needs.
Emily McVeigh of Kenton Hall Estate in Suffolk recently spoke on a Country Land and Business Association (CLA) podcast about the challenges she has faced during the pandemic. In recent years, the estate has been developed into a successful and diversified rural business that incorporates four main enterprises: productive arable farm, Longhorn cattle herd producing high-quality beef, wedding venue, glamping site, and cookery school.
Set in the spectacular Suffolk countryside, the estate hosts weddings from May to September and the glamping site is also popular with hen party groups. "Both the hen parties and weddings are within the weddings business and both parts have been heavily affected," says Emily.
When the first lockdown began in 2020 Emily quickly spoke with all the couples who had booked their big day at the estate. Most were happy to move their booking to 2021 in order to ensure they could still have their big celebration at the estate. The decision meant Emily didn’t have to incur the costs of setting up the marquee and opening the venue.
The continued uncertainty caused by the pandemic in 2021 has presented further challenges for Emily.
When you’re planning a wedding most people need a year or two years to plan ahead and as a business, from a cash flow perspective, we are also looking a year or two years ahead, so it’s challenging.
“We watch the news and understand the latest developments at the same time as everybody else,” adds Emily. “We have been speaking with our couples as early as possible and we reassure them where we can. It’s about managing expectations and emotions that add to the business side of checking terms and conditions and cancellation policies."
Emily says she has been very open with her couples and speaks to them on the phone as well as by email to keep the communication channels open.
CLA Senior Economist Charles Trotman says the pandemic has had massive consequences for the wedding industry.
The impact on a very vibrant, thriving sector has been absolutely huge and what we are seriously concerned about is the longer term impact on the industry.There will be no easy way out of this and the industry and the government will need to work together to put together a clear and targeted financial package to support businesses now and in the short to medium term. What we don’t want to see is a vibrant, thriving sector fall apart because of a lack of government understanding of the sector requirements.