By Daniela Degrassi
For months we’ve been covering the effects of Covid-19 on the wedding industry. On The Kind Bride blog we witnessed bridal fashion designers halting their ‘business as usual’ and applying their tailoring skills to make face masks for communities in need. We’ve heard how many wedding professionals have been adjusting their operations to be able to serve weddings and elopements during the Pandemic, or guiding their couples with their rescheduling plans. One category we haven’t yet heard from. Wedding venues. They have probably been hit the hardest, considering how venues usually incur in so many fixed expenses, managing a property and staff.
We reached out to Simon Daukes, owner of The Ash Barton Estate, a beautiful venue located in Devon’s countryside, surrounded by 25 acres of woodland, fields, gardens, wildflower meadows, lakes, walled garden, a large open courtyard and a romantic old chapel. The location provides plenty of room for a wedding ‘social-distancing’ style!
With over a decade of experience hosting weddings from traditional, same sex, festival, barn, wildflower meadow and more, Simon certainly has an in-depth knowledge of the wedding industry and what different brides/grooms want. We wanted to check with him on how this Pandemic affected his business and what the ‘new normal’ will look like now that the venue is ready to welcome back wedding celebrations!
Simon, how did The Ash Barton Estate handle this unexpected pandemic?
Ash Barton has taken this enforced closure as an opportunity and has used the time to do a further £100K of investment including full sized cinema screen video wall so Aunt Maud from Canada can still come to the wedding. Everyone has been offered a full range of no cost options and nobody has been asked for more than the 2021/2 rate-card figures. Every single booking also has the option to revert back to their original dates at zero notice should the situation improve in the forthcoming months.
How did you handle communications with couples that had to reschedule?
The fact that we are already so forward booked for 2021 speaks for itself. I believe couples will look at venues and say ‘How did you behave with your Covid couples? Did you support them above and beyond contractual minimums? Did you support their intentions not just their rights?’ I imagine newly engaged couples will want heightened communication when booking a wedding venue. They will want a venue that is easy to communicate with, preferring family run operations where they can talk to the owners and gauge their reactions face to face. Transparency and honesty are key to great customer service.
Now that we are living a ‘new normal’ and The Ash Barton Estate has reopened, how will weddings will look like?
As lockdown restrictions have confined people to their homes, post-covid couples will want space. Lots and lots of it. From beautiful, outdoor options to huge, ceilinged indoor spaces that are safe and airy. They will prefer wedding venues with a high degree of flexibility and where they are free to do what they want. After all, they would have waited 1-2 years to have their DIY dream wedding, so they deserve to have magic around every corner.
Given how unifying the pandemic has been, a sense of humor and human kindness will be paramount. Sourcing food and decorations locally will be key for supporting local businesses, and there will be an increased interest for sustainable venues too. As well as being the leading independent sustainable property in south-west, Ash Barton can advise couples on local suppliers, farm shops and restaurants to eat at.
What would be your advice to wedding suppliers or other venues that don’t have the means to make huge investments while in lockdown? How can they stay positive and make steps forward getting ready for getting back to work?
If you do not have the means to make investments while in lockdown, there are still positive steps wedding venue owners can make to move forward. Go to junk shops and buy cheap furniture and give it a coat of leftover paint. This simple technique will turn trash into treasure and make old, worn out pieces of furniture look new again. Fairy lights are also cheap as chips and everyone loves them. Use them to create mood lighting and revamp an old barn or dull looking space. If your property grows fresh flowers, hang them upside down in an old shed and after a few months you will have free, beautiful dried flowers to frame or offer as confetti. Finally, re-paint your space or pick up wallpaper off-cuts to spot cover small bits off the wall. Don’t panic and don’t compare yourself to other wedding venues too much. Be different and ask yourself what would I like? How would I react if I were the bride or groom?
While Simon will now be busy with wedding season back on track at The Ash Barton, during the Pandemic, he has also kindly contributed to The Kind Bride blog. We loved his tips for throwing a virtual hen party and his favorite ways to incorporate greenery into your wedding decor. Have a read if you missed it!
An incurable enthusiast and independent spirit since she could remember (her childhood heroines were Pippi Longstockings and Katharine Hepburn) Daniela Degrassi found her creative outlet as a lifestyle photographer, working mainly in Northern California. Currently splitting her time between SF Bay Area and her native Italy to continue to be her autistic sister’s primary caregiver. Vegan since 2014, she found a perfect way to carry her message of compassion while celebrating her love for the wedding industry launching The Kind Bride in February 2018.