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Lessons in Wedding Planning: finding the venue

10 May 2016

Bride-to-be Jessica Phillipson is on the search for her wedding venue. In the second instalment of her blog, she shares the highs and lows of finding the perfect place in which to wed

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Hi brides-to-be!

So now we’ve got our guest lists sorted, the next thing to do is pick a place (and time) and start inviting people. You’d think this would have been an exciting experience for me, but it wasn’t...

About the time that Tom proposed, we also bought our first house together. I love our house and I’m so happy in it, but getting it was so so so stressful. And it needed a lot of work. On top of that, my fiancé works offshore, so every two weeks he disappears for two weeks. With an absentee partner and lawyers and estate agents to wrangle, our wedding plans were well and truly on the back burner for months after our engagement. And as you know, once you start telling people you’re engaged, the next question is always: “So when’s the wedding?”.

This, coupled with the follow up “Got a date yet?” from people I hadn’t been able to answer the first time, started driving me slightly crazy. I don’t know how people manage to have long engagements without screaming at people, I really don’t. So I took action.

About a day before Tom was due to come home from working away, he called me to tell me how he couldn’t wait to get back and relax with me. His time away had been stressful and he was looking forward to some quality time with his fiancée – I thought it best to warn him.

“I want a date. We need to find and book our venue when you’re back,” I rather bluntly responded. Luckily for me, he still came back.

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Not being the most traditional of couples, I didn’t insist we had the wedding in my home county. We had a discussion, agreeing that being near one of our parents’ houses (we live near mine in Norfolk, his are near London) would be a good idea so we would have a ‘base’. Once we started browsing, it became clear we would get a lot more for our money by sticking to my neck of the woods and narrowed our search accordingly. Then we had to think about how much we wanted to spend.

Now don’t judge me, but this is how we settled on our budget: Don’t Tell The Bride. If you’ve never seen it (you are missing out – find it immediately!), it involves the groom being given money to plan the wedding without any input from the bride. Obviously, the showmakers pick men with ‘alternative’ ideas and it’s usually terrible car crash TV. But mostly the brides are pleased regardless, because they always end up married to their love in the end. Anyway, the grooms are given £14,000 (recently increased from £12,000) as that is apparently the average cost of a UK wedding. I figured that if they can put together a wedding after blowing half of their budget on exotic stag dos in Dubai (while sending their poor bride to bingo for her hen do), then we can definitely do it. Our wonderful parents offered to help out and we got saving.

I think most couples know what sort of wedding they want, and it’s important to find a venue to suit you. Grandiose country houses are great to visit, but definitely wouldn’t suit our wedding – we wanted something more informal. Likewise, I have absolutely no tolerance of being cold and hate camping with a passion, so the thought of having my wedding in a marquee (essentially a large tent in my opinion) was the stuff of nightmares. Another annoying stumbling block was discovering that many venues that offer wedding ceremonies are not licensed, so while you can stand under a majestic willow tree and say vows surrounded by sylvan beauty (an idea I was super keen on), legally it means nothing. You have to go and sign the paper in a registered room – maybe on a completely different day. Tom and I both thought this wouldn’t feel ‘real’, and the subsequent ‘real’ form signing ceremony would seem underwhelming. Some venues are not very forthcoming about this fact – make sure you check!

One resource I found extremely helpful was our county’s website. It lists all licensed venues in the region, so I spent a long evening visiting their individual websites to narrow down our options, checking out what they looked like, their location, capacity, facilities (some venues are just a room – no toilets and no kitchen included) and price. I immediately discounted any venue that did not state its price; it may be a cliché, but I abide by the rule: if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.

We didn’t actually end up visiting many venues at all, and ended up going back and booking the first one we looked at. We had a gut feeling when we walked in – we could see ourselves there. It is an Edwardian hotel, but the ceremony and reception will all take place in its beautiful, modern garden room, which has glass walls letting in lots of light and is surrounded by a walled garden, which will hopefully be in full bloom in spring! We also liked their style – there were no wedding ‘packages’, we could pick and choose what we wanted to create a bespoke day and make it fit to our budget.

The great thing about having a date is that you have a deadline. You can work backwards figuring out what you need to do each month to get yourselves ready for the big day – and start saving for it! You can also send out your save the dates.

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We settled on these after I trawled through thousands online, eventually presenting an increasingly glazed-over fiancé with my top five. In my opinion, totally worth it. We’ve had loads of compliments on our save the dates.

Book a venue? Check!

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