Published: 06:00, 15 September 2020
An under-fire wedding venue has called for government action, as anger mounts among couples over cancellations and refunds due to coronavirus.
Cooling Castle Barn director Rebecca Collins says the business has already processed refunds in excess of £600,000, but is facing further anger as one couple claimed it was refusing to pay back thousands of pounds.
Bride to be Ashley Rowland, 31, took to social media and contacted KentOnline to say the venue was "holding £6,000 of our hard earned money and have sold out of every date in 2021".
Belvedere resident Ashley was due to marry fiancée Craig Penfold in December, but they decided to call off the wedding and have now found a new venue which can take them for December next year.
Despite this she says Cooling was refusing to cancel the event until four weeks before the planned date, adding: "They will refund us £2,500 to cancel now but wish to keep the remaining £3,500 towards overheads and staff costs.
"To date, all we have had in terms of a service from them is an online portal and an evening to taste food. I am happy to pay for the services I have used and had access to but this no way comes to £3,500. The way they have treated couples during this time is horrific.
"Every bride deserves better than to throw together a wedding in four weeks. All our suppliers need paying and arranging a minimum eight weeks before."
But Ms Collins says the comments were "misleading, hurtful and are completely misdirected".
She added: "We have transferred/refunded couples wedding dates up to October 31, those affected couples who have chosen to cancel have been given a refund in full – to date we have processed refunds in excess of £600,000. It is the government, not us, who deserve the brunt of this anger.
"We all need a meaningful roadmap for the wedding industry to fully reopen, so that couples can have certainty about whether their day will go ahead. If Ashley had such a reopening date, she would have the certainty about being able to plan her wedding with us, or if the government confirmed we would not be open, we could engage with her and offer a full refund.
"We employ permanent staff, maintain a beautiful venue and grounds for our couples. These overheads are spread over each and every wedding and cannot be mitigated if a client cancels, we pay these costs in anticipation of delivering on a given day in the future – should we be solely responsible if a client voluntarily cancels?
"If Ashley decides to cancel her wedding before there is more information from the government, then we cannot offer a full refund for these reasons. Any partial refund quoted merely covers the fixed overheads of maintaining a large venue. I hope Ashley can understand that this is to safeguard our business and as many livelihoods as possible.
"As it is, with no such dialogue forthcoming from the government we are currently assuming we will be fully reopen on November 1 when furlough ends.
"The wedding industry is full of small fantastic businesses that are financially suffering and trying to navigate the best they can through this time. Ashley is getting married towards the end of December – for the sake of our wonderful industry, I truly hope the government recognises our need to be operational well before then."
Nevertheless, bride-to-be Ashley remains adamant she and her fiancee deserve a full refund and says the situation has got to the point where she could never get married at Cooling Castle Barn.
"There's no way I can stand there now on what's supposed to be the happiest day of my life, after the way they've treated us," she said. "I get that you've got to tighten your belts, but for a service that I've not used I find it disgusting to be charged for that."