Tipi company predicts boom once lockdown ends - but fight not over yet

Events Under Canvas owner Jenna Ackerley. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Events Under Canvas owner Jenna Ackerley. - Credit: Gregg Brown

A luxury Suffolk-based tipi company is getting around eight cancellations or postponements every week as uncertainties continue over the easing of lockdown. 

Events Under Canvas, based in Capel St Mary, suffered a devastating year in 2020, with almost all of its events and weddings cancelled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Inside the winter dining tipi at The Weeping Willow, Barrow near Bury St Edmunds Picture: Emma Cabi

Inside the winter dining tipi at The Weeping Willow, Barrow near Bury St Edmunds Picture: Emma Cabielles - Credit: Archant

Many of these bookings were rescheduled for early this year in the hope restrictions would have finished and life may have returned to normal.

Instead, many parties are having to cancel or rebook for a second time due to the lack of clarity.

Jenna Ackerley, who founded the tipi hire more than seven years ago, said it has been heart-breaking to see all of her team's hard work slip away. 

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She has grown the business from scratch, employing around 30 local people and usually has a turnover of £1.2million per year. 

The Events Under Canvas team, who put up the two tipis at East Bergholt Primary School. Picture: EVE

The Events Under Canvas team, who put up the two tipis at East Bergholt Primary School. - Credit: EVENTS UNDER CANVAS

She is confident they will be able to survive the next few months, after adapting the business to provide tipi hire for businesses trying to cater for the rise in outdoor dining.

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However, she admits the struggle is far from over. 

"This is out of everyone's control, so it is a really worrying time for the events business," she said. 

"Luckily, we have not had to make any redundancies and the flexi-furlough scheme has been a real lifeline for us, but we are just waiting to see what is announced on February 22. 

"Hopefully we will then get some more clarity."

The Weeping Willow pub's winter garden. It features a tent filled with fairy lights, fire pit and chairs

The winter garden at The Weeping Willow pub in Barrow showing that al fresco dining can be done all year-round now - Credit: Chestnut Group

Despite this unknown, Mrs Ackerley believes there will be a real demand for more outdoor dining like last summer, describing the pandemic like a "double-edged sword" for her business.  

"It might create a real opportunity with more people choosing to get married in tipis, or more people using these outside spaces opposed to having large events inside," she said. 

"Many pubs and businesses also want the tipis for the summer and the winter, even post-Covid, so it has opened us up to new clients. 

"We were fully booked in October last year with 14 different customers and all 24 of our tipis were in use, which was a real shock. We even had some of our tipis in use at central London pubs before the November lockdown."

Mrs Ackerley's tipis were put up at East Bergholt Primary School in the summer to help provide extra space for outside learning, and were also used at restaurants such as The Weeping Willow in Barrow, near Bury St Edmunds. 

She hopes there will be a "boom" in people looking to hire the tipis once restrictions ease, as families come together after months of lost time. 

She said: "There is a real hunger for people to get together with friends and family as soon as possible, as our lives are on hold at the moment.

"Eventually the large events and weddings will return, but for now working with businesses has been a real lifeline for us."

For more information about Events Under Canvas, see here. 

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