Events Under Canvas, a tipi hire company based in Capel St Mary, won the Growth Business of the Year award, sponsored by Ashtons Legal, at the East Anglian Daily Times Business Awards 2023.

Launched in 2013, the business supplies tipis, sailcloth tents and stretch tents for weddings, parties, festivals and corporate events – along with all the lighting, flooring and furniture to create full outdoor event venues.

High-profile clients include Glastonbury, Latitude Festival and Jimmy’s Farm & Wildlife Park.

Founder Jenna Ackerley had the idea for the business when attending a cousin’s wedding.

“I saw these tipis go up in a field and didn’t even know they existed,” said Jenna. “That was the spark – it made me think, ‘Wow, that’s a really interesting product’.

“We were about to build an extension on our house at the time,” she added. “I had a bit of cash in the bank ready to pay for it, so we did a quick U-turn and decided to invest that money in some tipis instead.”

Having previously run a recruitment business, Jenna used her experience to create a website and Facebook page for the company. “And it took off from there,” she said.

“I very quickly got a team around me who were brilliant – either building furniture, putting up tents or helping me with finance and sales – and that has just grown over the last 10 years.”

Entering – and winning – the Growth Business of the Year category at the EADT Business Awards was a chance to celebrate its success to date.

“It’s just been a real growth story,” said Jenna. “When I first started the business, I targeted 12 events in my first year, and we did 56. We’ve exceeded pretty much any target we’ve ever set.

“Anyone who knows about the business is typically impressed by our growth and the way we’ve scaled.”

East Anglian Daily Times: The business supplies tipis for weddings and other outdoor eventsThe business supplies tipis for weddings and other outdoor events (Image: Dominic Whiten Photography)

Like any business, growth has come with its fair share of challenges for Events Under Canvas.

“In the first five or six years, we were growing 50-60% each year, but we always felt a little bit like demand was exceeding our capacity,” said Jenna. “There was always that worry of, ‘Oh my god, are we going to pull this off?’, but the attitude of the team meant we always did it.”

This attitude also helped the company get through the pandemic.

Events Under Canvas had 125 weddings booked in 2020, all of which were cancelled overnight. By fixing prices and offering free postponement for up to two years, it was able to retain customers’ deposits and keep investing in the business.

Meanwhile, it started to contact hospitality venues about outdoor dining spaces, securing work with East Anglia pub brand Chestnut and Tuddenham Mill near Bury St Edmunds.

This work has continued post-Covid, creating an additional revenue stream for the business.

“We also donated some tipis to our local primary school out of kindness,” said Jenna. “We had some amazing PR off the back of that, which then led to enquiries from private schools.

“We didn’t make a profit in 2020, but we didn’t make big losses either,” she added. “Then 2021 was a huge boom year because we had all the postponed weddings from the year before, and we still had a lot of the long-term hire business we generated in 2020.

“Suddenly our business was almost double the size it had been when we went into Covid.”

The company overcame further adversity recently as four of its tents were set alight in an arson attack – ahead of one of its showcase events.

“After the high of the awards, we were knocked back down to earth a little bit,” said Jenna.

“But the community and the team were brilliant – and the event still went ahead as planned.

“In the good times and the bad, we’ve got a great team here that all pulls together.”

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