The coronavirus pandemic has brought a halt to all weddings. Here, one venue owner, Ian Evans of Copdock Hall near Ipswich, tells of the impact on the industry and couples planning their big day.

East Anglian Daily Times: The Copdock Hall wedding venue in Suffolk Picture: Copdock HallThe Copdock Hall wedding venue in Suffolk Picture: Copdock Hall (Image: Archant)

It is getting warmer and the nights longer which should signal the start of the peak wedding season.

It is a time of joy, celebration and commitment among friends and family at a special venue chosen for a variety of reasons but with love in mind.

However, our wedding venue is quiet and very empty. Like similar barns, stately homes, golf clubs and other locations across Suffolk, East Anglia and beyond, we are closed to couples and their guests…for the foreseeable future.

Like other businesses we await Boris’s announcement on Sunday but realistically we can’t see a return to ‘normality’ anytime soon. Perhaps we will be allowed to open but with social distancing, maybe limited numbers or no guests over 70 or overweight? We’ll have to wait and see.

East Anglian Daily Times: The Copdock Hall wedding venue in Suffolk Picture: BirdsiImagesThe Copdock Hall wedding venue in Suffolk Picture: BirdsiImages (Image: Archant)

But what I do know is there will be thousands of engaged couples and venue owners watching and listening with equal concern.

Now I don’t expect an outpouring of sympathy from you the reader. Your thoughts are rightly directed to the dying and dead, the bereaved families, frontline NHS workers risking their lives, the bus drivers, supermarket workers – the list is familiar and fully deserved.

But along with deaths and births, we facilitate the third of the societal trinity: marriages. They’re an integral part of what it means to be human and to love whatever your gender, skin colour, culture or religion (despite what some people might say). Why else are they lumped together at the local register office?

We opened in 2015 and have now hosted hundreds of weddings of various shapes and sizes. Come sun, rain, wind and snow they are fun occasions and ones which now seem a long time ago.

East Anglian Daily Times: Diane and Ian Evans at the opening of Copdock Hall Picture: ArchantDiane and Ian Evans at the opening of Copdock Hall Picture: Archant

Since the tsunami of coronavirus hit us in March, we have been fielding calls almost daily from worried couples.

Unlike the booking which are usually decided and overseen by the brides (sorry guys, but it’s true), the coronavirus calls are usually from the blokes wanting to ask the questions but not necessarily hear the answers.

It’s not easy. Like most businesses we are in uncharted waters and developing policies to deal with challenging times. Most of our bookings are made 18 months to two years before the big day. Because we offer 48-hour hire, that means we only have so many weekends in the prime months available, many of which are booked for 2021 and some 2022.

So back in March when the combined efforts of the Church of England, Suffolk registrars and the Government effectively stopped weddings until at least the end of June, worried couples understandably started emailing and phoning us.

I’d like to say from the start, most of our couples have been great - respectful, understanding and civil at what is a heart-breaking time. The day they had booked, intricately planned, prepared stag/hen nights for and looked forward to was off, through no fault of their own – or ours. A date of joy was now hollow, staring out at them from the calendar, discarded wedding invites and bills.

Like other wedding venues, we absolutely share their pain, frustration and desperation.

But neither party can ignore it so we’ve worked with couples to find an alternative date which was often not the date they planned or wanted. Saturday dates have become midweek dates. Summer dates become winter dates. Whatever date, we will work our hardest to make it the best date.

But some have been a bit more ‘challenging’ – a minority, confirmed by other wedding venue owners. It’s been a ‘them and us’ scenario whereby we’re frustrating their demand for a like-for-like wedding regardless of availability or the need for us to hold some dates back for new business.

What they don’t understand is that with the effective cancellation of most of this year’s weddings and transfer to next, it’s essentially a double booking for the same fee with massive lost income this year.

Despite the lockdown we still have ongoing bills – maintenance (we’ve just had to repair the roof after a stormy winter), insurance, wedding licences, drinks licences, heating to keep the Grade II barn at an ambient temperature, electricity, grass-cutting and landscaping (we don’t know when we’ll open); topping up furloughed staff, our income, phone/internet bills, loans, mortgages, accountancy fees – the list is endless. When couples book our barn they’re not just paying for the physical building on the day but all of the above and more to keep it tip-top.

Like most venue-owners, we don’t have a huge backroom staff. And it’s not just us, it’s the caterers, photographers, cake-makers, florists, DJs, make-up artists, hairdressers etc who’ve all seen their incomes drop off the wedding cliff and often fall through the gaps in Government support. Like lots of businesses, they are struggling too. Indeed, to help those small firms through the current crisis a new industry body has been set up in the last week to advise and support wedding-related companies including venues called the Association of British Wedding Businesses -

As I say, we’ve only had a small minority of couples play hard and it’s unedifying when we’re here doing our best, unable to be furloughed. Threatening legal action, criticising online or going to the media is heart-breaking for venues and suppliers. There are some rogue operators out there who deserve the flack but the vast majority of venues do care, want to find a compromise and keep open.

Good times will return and we’ll enjoy weddings again – I just urge couples to keep in touch and talk through compromises while abiding by Government regulations…of course.