Weddings industry reeling from pandemic stress — even as restrictions ease

A bride in an avenue of trees at Kenton Hall Estate

The cap on wedding guests may be gone - but venues are finding the rules are far from simple - Credit: Kenton Hall Estate

Wedding venues across East Anglia are counting the cost after coronavirus restrictions continue to take a big bite out of their businesses.

From Monday, June 21, a government cap of 30 guests has been lifted — but regional venue owners say strict rules are still causing huge headaches and recruitment remains a major concern.

Landowners’ lobby group the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) — which is part of weddings industry group the UK Weddings Taskforce — said the financial loss in 2020 alone across the UK was a devastating £7bn.

New rules for weddings means numbers are determined by how many can be safely accommodated at venues with social distancing measures in place. Venues need to carry out a risk assessment and other measures to prevent the spread of the disease.

Marquees or other structures in a garden must have at least 50% of its walled area open at any time to be classed as “outdoors”, there are still restrictions on dancing and singing — and there are requirements such as serving drinks at tables rather than the bar.

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David Graham, manager of Dunston Hall in Norwich, said the 166 bedroom hotel had probably lost well over £2m over the last 18 months due to the pandemic. “It’s been a very challenging year,” he admitted. “Every hospitality business will have lost money in the last 18 months without a shadow of a doubt.” 

Apart from during the first lockdown, the hotel has stayed open but during lockdowns was accommodating just key workers.

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While the lifting of the guests cap for weddings was welcome the events still have to be staged at a much-reduced capacity due to the restrictions, he added. 

“There’s frustration there because it’s all very confusing,” he said. While the bride and groom could take a turn on the dance floor, everyone else had to remain seated at tables of six and tap their toes under tough rules for preventing the spread of infection. “One of the upsetting things for a lot of brides and grooms is the restriction on the dancing and singing,” he said.

Emily McVeigh, an events manager at Kenton Hall Estate, near Debenham, said the pandemic had hit wedding businesses hard.

“It’s been a torrid time for the wedding sector,” she admitted. “I think we are going to see a lot of closures after the last announcements.”

The removal of the cap was actually causing more problems as customers were less aware of the other restrictions imposed which made it very hard to stage large-scale weddings, she said. Serving at tables meant more staff — at a time when the hospitality industry was facing a recruitment crisis.

While she welcomed the loosening up of restrictions, she felt it would have been better to delay by a month and have an “all or nothing” rather than a halfway house situation.

“We are in this grey area,” she said. “It’s a total minefield.”

Weddings for 30 people just weren’t financially viable, she added.

The industry is now hoping that July 19 may offer some relief if as hoped conditions are eased.

This year losses have continued to climb for the industry with around 320,000 weddings postponed or cancelled since March 2020, said the CLA, in an industry which generated £14.7bn for the UK economy in 2019 and employs more than 400,000 people.

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