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Kent wedding venue owners react to Boris Johnson's announcement on easing lockdown measure being postponed

Owners of wedding venues have been left shocked at the changes to lockdown measure imposed by the government.

Boris Johnson announced today that measures due to start tomorrow, which included allowing small wedding receptions and reopening bowling alleys and casinos, have been postponed for at least two weeks.

Laurie Edwards from Chic Weddings in Gravesend reacts to the government's announcement

This has come as a blow to owners of venues across Kent who had been planning to allow parties of up to 30 people from this weekend.

Amelia Whitmore, administrator at Little Hermitage Wedding Venue in Higham: "It's absolutely shocking. I don't know how any business is meant to survive.

"I don't understand how pubs can be open but we're not allowed. The other day I was in TGIs and there was 50 people there but we can't have a wedding reception with 30 people. It's crazy. I'm a little bit shocked.

"If they're going to shut anything down, it needs to be the whole hospitality industry.

"We're finding that brides don't want to have just one part of the wedding - they want the big wedding and the big celebration, and you can't do that.

Little Hermitage Wedding Venue, Little Hermitage, Gravesend Road, Picture: Simon Hildrew
Little Hermitage Wedding Venue, Little Hermitage, Gravesend Road, Picture: Simon Hildrew

Next Sunday, the venue in Gravesend Road was due to have a vow-renewal followed by a recption and Sunday roast. At the end of the month they had booked a wedding for 30 people.

Ms Whitmore said: "I don't know if it will go ahead with everything that's going on. We're ready - we've scrubbed the house inside and outside.

"Our money goes towards preserving the building, and the upkeep. I just hope the government has a little think and realises these companies won't be able to survive - maybe they should provide furlough for those companies and give hospitality some help, while the people that can go back to work.

"Fingers crossed we're getting through it but it feels like you're getting there and then you're not. It's a losing battle and quite worrying."

"It keeps being thrown back in our face because the second you plan for something, it's changed again and it's impossible to keep up..."

Margaret Preedy, Owner of Rianos in Maidstone has echoed Ms Whitmore's concerns. She currently has no bookings in August - a time that would normally be her busiest.

She said: "It's a total disaster. In September I've got one wedding left and they've already cut down their numbers.

"Even with more people, couples haven't been interested in the ceremonies going ahead so I don't have any to change or cancel any bookings because of today's announcement, but no doubt I'll get more calls cancelling after this because it's frustrating for couples, they can't plan anything

"Before Covid-19, I had April, May, June, July, August and September fully booked. Every weekend I had weddings planned and on some days I even had two or three and now there's nothing. I can't rely on birthday parties and events either.

"About 95% of weddings have rebooked for next year. That's all well and good but that means I have no space for next year so I'm never going to gain the loss back.

"It keeps being thrown back in our face because the second you plan for something, it's changed again and it's impossible to keep up.

"I appreciate weddings have got to be safe but until they can say that people can have up to 80 guests and a party, I don't think anything will change, People don't want that so they won't book.

"I don't think a lot people have realised how hard this has struck wedding venues. We're not a bar, we're not a restaurant so I can't open to the public. I can't open as a restaurant and I can't open as a pub because that would be like starting a new business. Basically I've lost all of my business. "

Some are having to rely on other incomes to keep going. Craig Bruun, Estate Manager at Allington Castle said: "As a venue that does fewer weddings, and one not solely reliant on weddings, we're fortunate that the lockdown extension has no immediate impact on us. We hadn't taken any booking for the next two weeks anyway.

"We can only imagine how frustrating it is for the other venues which have taken bookings, and more so for the couples who have booked.

"We'll continue doing viewings while following the guidelines, with a view to bookings next year and the following. Still, we are not open to the general public but viewings can be pre-arranged through our website."

Allington Castle. Picture: John Westhrop.
Allington Castle. Picture: John Westhrop.

Venues with large open spaces have been working on plans to allow socially distant events in preperation for tomorrow.

At Penshurst Place and Gardens, guests will be shown to their seats, given the chance to clean their hands and encouraged not to bring gifts on the day.

Couples have been encouraged not to bring guest books or make favours but rather encourage video messages on the day. They are also running a track and trace scheme and collecting contact details. from everyone.

Nikki Donovan, Head of Weddings & Banqueting at Penshurst Place and Gardens, says: "Receptions, when they are permitted to resume, will look quite different – seating plans will need to take into account keeping households together if possible and well-spaced from other tables. Catering has needed to be carefully reconsidered; help-yourself stations for beverages will replace waiting staff topping up glasses and there will be plated food or picnic bags, rather than buffets.

Penshurst Place near Tonbridge
Penshurst Place near Tonbridge

“We are very excited to be counting down to our first post-lockdown ceremony. Of course, we've had to take a lot into consideration to make our venue and the events that it hosts safe, but still fun.

"The new regulations have meant that we've had to work even more closely than before with our couples; liaising with them to ensure their guest lists fall within the 30 people limit, delaying any plans for indoor receptions until legislations change, and potentially cancelling indoor receptions after August 15 should the limitations on indoor groups be extended further.

"Safety is and will remain our top priority and whilst the changes and uncertainty is difficult, we are very much in this together with our couples, and we will continue to support them and be here to lean on for whatever they need."

Bowling alleys bosses have also had to delay reopening, with one forced to cancel around 100 bookings.

Pete Terry, managing director of Disco Leisure Group, which took over the Chatham Bowl in the Pentagon last year said: "We are devastated. We have been working hard behind the scenes to ensure all safety procedures and Covid requirements are in place and spent money in doing so, and our staff have been very excited about coming back.

"I understand that public safety is of paramount importance but I don't understand how pubs and restaurants have been allowed to reopen when we have about four times more space in our alleys.

"At the end of the day we are running a business."

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