Harnessing diversification to create a successful wedding venue

Discover how two CLA members have developed multiple diversifications, including wedding venues, to generate income and maximise business potential
Deene Park walled garden
The walled garden at Deene Park

Two CLA member estates in Northamptonshire and Hertfordshire have harnessed the potential of their assets to create unique wedding venue enterprises.

Deene Park in Northamptonshire, part of the 10,000-acre Brudenell Estates, features a range of diversifications, including commercial and residential let properties and field sports alongside its agriculture and forestry operations. It has historically hosted some substantial events, including classic car shows and music festivals, and the Tudor Hall and gardens are open to visitors.

Estates can no longer rely solely on traditional estate incomes of farming and forestry. We need to look more broadly at making all the assets work to generate income and to spread risk, reducing vulnerability from market changes and the weather, for example

Simon Hickling, Estates Director at Brudenell Estates

Developing a wedding venue at Deene Park

Deene Park goes through a continual process of considering how its assets can work for alternative income streams. This approach led the estate to launch its initial wedding venue offer in 2017. The venue was created in Deene Park’s walled garden, with planning permission secured for a temporary marquee from April to October. Couples marry at a ceremony area in the walled garden and then have use of the marquee for the reception.

When enquiries started coming in for much larger weddings, the team identified a bigger site next to the lake. Customers arrange their own marquee and other services, such as catering, using Deene Parke’s preferred suppliers.

During the development and growth of the wedding business, consultancy support was provided by Simon Cope at Generation for Growth, which advises rural and heritage estates. Following an events business model review, it supported the estate in recruiting a dedicated events manager. Simon Hickling says: “Bringing these specialist skills into the team and dedicating this role to ongoing events management has been important. It means we’re able to spend time with customers and fully understand their requirements.”

Covid was a considerable challenge for the expansion of the wedding business, but as restrictions lifted, a woodland clearing was landscaped and a wedding ceremony structure installed. This woodland wedding area is offered as a teepee site.

Simon says: “It’s proving very popular because it’s so unique. Following Covid and as the cost of living has risen, there are people still prepared to spend substantially on weddings, but the pool has probably shrunk. Being one step ahead of the game all the time is a challenge, but there is so much potential.”

Deene Park’s expanded wedding facilities also open new opportunities. The estate has entered into a joint venture with BlueSky Experiences for corporate training and experience days to increase the use of the marquee and other facilities during the week.

The exploration of new diversifications continues at Deene Park, with plans to further develop the corporate events venture, the potential to increase the use of the parkland for events, exploring accommodation that could be used for both weddings and holidays, developing unused buildings for new purposes and exploring natural capital services.

Sandon Manor - Laura Williams Photography
Sandon Manor - Credit Laura Williams Photography

Capitalising on assets at Sandon Manor

Thorough analysis of the potential of the estate’s assets also led siblings Kate Redfern and Mark Faure Walker to diversify into the wedding business at Sandon Manor in Hertfordshire.

The 1,200-acre holding previously derived its main income from arable farming, but owners Kate and Mark saw exciting diversification potential using the manor house and several other historic buildings. After considering various options, consulting with Generation for Growth and a careful planning phase, Kate and Mark launched a high-end wedding venue, offering exclusive use of the Queen Anne manor house and grounds.

Kate says: “We first renovated the manor house and dovecot into luxury accommodation, which together can sleep 18 people. This took place during Covid restrictions, so there were various delays and disruptions, but when the restrictions lifted we opened these first as holiday accommodation, which proved popular, while we continued with the second stage of developing the wedding venue.”

This phase included turning five buildings around the courtyard into tailored settings for the different functions of a high-end wedding event. The buildings have become a ceremony hall, a hay barn for drinks alongside the courtyard and veranda, a medieval barn for dinner and dancing with a club room and dancefloor, and a large kitchen. Kate explains: “Not only does this help create a smooth wedding day with a unique offer, it also means that the venue can be used all-year round, which was essential to our commercial proposition.”

The process of rewilding the majority of the farmland started 2022, with the dual benefit of supporting nature while complementing the sustainable appeal of the wedding venue offer.

Sandon Manor began hosting weddings in 2023. “It’s going very well, and it’s also been really rewarding to see falling-down buildings renovated, and now to see people celebrating in them,” says Kate. The next step is conversion of a grain barn into luxury accommodation to sleep 30 people, in response to customers’ desire for more on site accommodation.

Reviewing the launch of the wedding business to date, Kate identifies how important it was to spend time getting the planning stage right, and the challenge of needing to be “a master of all trades” before a full team can be put in place. Her key advice? “Make yourself different. We did a lot of market research to make sure we could offer something clearly different and make the most of our assets.”

Generation for Growth’s Simon Cope agrees, emphasising the importance of undertaking qualitative, quantitative and market research to help identify a niche in the market place. He adds: “Securing the buy-in of internal and external stakeholders, putting together a detailed business and events marketing plan, and ensuring you select, recruit and retain the right staff are all essential elements of launching or expanding a successful events diversification.”

Find out more about Deene Park and Sandon Manor.