Although Boris Johnson has announced his aim to “remove all legal limits on social contact” for weddings from 21 June, it’s about time he spoke to the wedding industry directly, and gave those waiting to marry – and those who depend on it for a living – some real clarity around how and when they can move forward.
The hospitality and entertainment industries have been addressed widely, with targeted schemes such as Eat Out To Help Out and local authority grants. But even now, the wedding industry as an entity has been overlooked.
At the end of last year, stadium events were allowed to welcome spectators in numbers of up to 4,000. Yet wedding numbers remained at 15 people and never got higher than 30, a blanket figure which did not take into account venue capacity. This looks set to be the case again as from 12 April, when the amount of guests at wedding receptions will again rise to 15. By 17 May, indoor sports events will allow 1,000 people or 50% venue capacity – but for “significant life events” (such as weddings), attendees will remain at 30.
While still a hopeful, positive sign, this is all dependent on lowered infections and the continued success of the vaccine rollout. Until this point, it’s important that couples and suppliers are supported up until the point they can definitely move forward.
Despite contributing almost £15billion to the UK economy each year, weddings have been grouped together with hospitality in ways that have excluded suppliers from gaining financial aid. Some suppliers were granted help through the furlough scheme – but found it couldn’t actually be accessed because they had to keep working whether weddings were allowed or not – either planning for reopening, or marketing to attract new customers.
“Like many others, we postponed our wedding in 2020. Then we postponed it again.”
This oversight is particularly galling because in late January, the Scottish government announced that wedding suppliers would receive £25million worth of funding, providing one-off grants of up to £25,000. This targeted funding gives Scottish suppliers a solid chance to repair - a chance not as yet afforded to suppliers in other parts of the UK.
Like many others, we postponed our wedding in 2020. Then we postponed it again. We were grateful to tie the knot in a tiny ceremony with no guests – or face losing £500 for the booked registrar – in October 2020. However, most of our cash remains tied up with wedding suppliers and our venue, waiting for our ‘sequel wedding’. It’s booked for April, but we will postpone again because the amount of people allowed in the new government guidelines won’t cover our guestlist. Thousands of other couples are in a similar position, wanting to go ahead but likely having to, once again, compromise the way their day looks.
The campaign group What About Weddings is calling for a dedicated wedding industry roadmap, as well as raising awareness about the suffering wedding industry. Campaign manager Tamryn Settle tells me that businesses have been absolutely “decimated” by the pandemic: “It’s hard for anyone to pretend that weddings are something that just a few people care about. There are 400,000 workers who rely on weddings to pay their bills. Weddings are a milestone event in people’s lives and they provide work in every corner of the country. To forget them would be a major error.”
“The government can’t just blanket weddings with small, arbitrary numbers and think that solves the issue.”
“Every day, I hear from businesses and couples who are in real crisis. We need financial support until we can get back to trading profitably again, otherwise a truly world-leading sector is perilously at risk.”
I’ve noticed a two-sided discourse on the subject of weddings, usually found in grotty comment sections. Couples have been deemed ‘selfish’ and ‘ignorant’ for expressing sadness about their cancelled weddings.
But couples are not ignorant – we can see the bigger picture. It’s not about having a ‘big party’ for us. When weddings are overlooked time and again by the government, it’s valid that we feel sadness and concern about our planned days, alongside the wedding suppliers that help us to create them.
With more and more people receiving the vaccine and the new roadmap, there is now cautious optimism that we will be able to hold larger weddings this year and into 2022. However, the government can’t just blanket weddings with small, arbitrary numbers and think that solves the issue. A dedicated roadmap and targeted financial support is needed to give couples and wedding businesses the ability to make decisions about their future.
Only then can suppliers know how they’ll survive – and couples like us will have hope for their futures once again.
Ella Delancey Jones is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @ellaluciewrites