With no big weddings on the cards ‘for years’ industry workers reveal the reality of their devastated livelihoods – including a florist with stress alopecia and a hairdresser whose salary has dropped from £50,000 to £4,000
- UK wedding industry contributes around £14 billion annually to the economy
- Since March 2020, the industry has shrunk dramatically as restrictions have seen thousands of couples forced to reschedule their nuptials
- Scientist Tim Spector said it could be ‘several years’ before big weddings return
- FEMAIL speaks to those who’ve had livelihoods devastated by the pandemic
While Covid cases are falling and the vaccine programme has been hailed a success by many, the £14 billion pound UK wedding industry says it’s still reeling from the prospect that large gatherings could remain banned until 2023.
Last week, top UK scientist Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, said it could be ‘several years’ before big weddings, with guests flying in from across the globe to celebrate return to normal.
For the celebrants, photographers, florists, cake makers and millions of other people associated with the UK wedding industry, Professor Spector’s words strike another blow to an industry that’s been on its knees since March 2020.
The wedding industry, which contributes around £14 billion to the UK economy every year has been left on its knees by the pandemic, but many of those working in the industry say the Government needs to do more to help businesses re-build
Speaking to Times Radio, Spector said: ‘I can’t see us having massive weddings with people coming from all over the world, I think for the next few years, those days are gone.’
A campaign to get the Government to provide a roadmap both for the wedding industry and couples who’ve been forced to postpone their nuptials has called again for the Prime Minister to set out a plan of action.
Jessie Westwood, spokesperson for the What about Weddings campaign told FEMAIL: ‘We are calling for the government to provide a roadmap to re-opening that offers parity with other sectors until normal and profitable levels of trade can resume.
‘We are working hard to present workable solutions to government and ensure a female-led sector that contributes £14.7billion a year to the economy, employing over 400,000 workers in every part of the UK, can survive and contribute to recovery long-term.’
Here, FEMAIL speaks to people who rely on the success of the wedding industry for their livelihoods:
Father Lee Taylor looks after four churches around beautiful Llangollen in north Wales. While venues are normally fully booked year-round with couples from all over the UK, Father Taylor says the pandemic has left pews empty, with no help from the Government to cover the £8,000 a year the church makes from both weddings and collection plates…
Father Lee Taylor, who oversees four churches around Llangollen in North Wales that are normally hugely popular for weddings, says his local congregation are feeling ‘lost and dispirited’ by the ongoing effects of the pandemic
‘Needless to say, it’s been pretty stressful for me recently. There should have been 21 weddings here last year and around the same number planned for this year. Most of these couples are now considering postponing their wedding until 2022 because they want a big wedding with all their friends and family in attendance.
The cancellation of weddings has not only impacted couples, their families and friends. It has also affected our local congregation to. Many of us are feeling dispirited and a sense of loss. Our local congregations look forward enormously to weddings because they like to feel part of all the preparations and the ceremony.
They enjoy connecting with the couple and hearing thier story of how they met and why they think a church wedding is important. It also brings back memories for them too as they think back to their own wedding day.
The cancellation and postponement of weddings has also affected our church financially. The churches income (to pay for bills, maintenance, repairs and mission work etc) relies on the collection plate and the fees we receive from weddings. This is our only source of income. Contrary to what many believe, we do not receive financially assistance from the government.
Father Taylor told FEMAIL trying to make weddings ‘Covid compliant’ has been tough and that no bookings and the lack of a regular collection plate has since his churches losing up to £8,000 a year, with no option of help from the Government (Pictured: Father Lee Taylor marrying couples at his churches in North Wales)
There are a few weddings still going ahead this year but on a small scale. I have to follow strict guidelines and am having to consider altering certain components of the marriage service as well as work out a COVID-choreography: how the bride, groom, best man, father-of-the-bride, myself and witnesses will move around during the ceremony. The father-of-the-bride and the best man are unlikely to be from the same household and so this is one example of how it fundamentally alters the format of the marriage ceremony.
Looking more positively, Zoom has been a great facility. I’ve offered pre-nuptial blessings to couples over Zoom on what would have been their wedding day. Families from all over UK and, more recently, Australia, have joined in on virtual ceremonies.’
THE HAIR AND MAKE-UP ARTIST
Award-winning hair and make-up artist Kirsty McCall, 39, from Dartford in Kent, has worked in the wedding industry for 15 years and normally travels all over the UK and internationally with her work, alongside her photographer husband, Daniel. In 2020, she did just seven weddings out of the 100 that were scheduled…earning less than £4,000
Kirsty McCall, 39, from Dartford in Kent, has seen her business effectively stop, with 93 weddings cancelled in 2020 out of the 100 she had booked in. She says she feels like a ‘shell’ of her former self
The mother-of-two says her photographer husband Daniel, pictured top right, has been forced to take work as a labourer on £80 a day after wedding work dried up, and she lost £30,000 in work last year (Kirsty with her daughter Beau and son Bruno )
We went in to lockdown four days before my first wedding of 2020. I remember being terrified and in disbelief at what was happening, I couldn’t get my head around the prospect of moving weddings and trials to future dates, I’ve never had to ‘postpone’ a wedding date before, wedding dates are always set in stone in my diary, it’s just how the wedding industry has always worked.
Normally, I have brides book me two to three years in advance of their wedding dates, many have booked their venue according to my availability which is an amazing testimony! I do on average 100 weddings myself per year plus lots of occasion hair and make-up work and some commercial photoshoots.
Alongside the dozens of weddings I do every year in the UK, I also do three to six destination weddings per year, usually in France, Greece, Spain and Italy.
I usually earn just under £50,000 a year and I’ve earned less than £4,000 in the last year from actual work. The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme gave me just over £15,000 but I’ve still lost around £30,000.
We’ve used every penny of our savings to pay the mortgage and bills. My husband has had to take a job as a labourer on a building site earning under £80 per day. His wages don’t cover our family outgoings – we have two children, aged nine and seven.
A shell of my former self: Weddings that would normally have been booked up two to three years in advance have been cancelled, and Kirsty says the stress has affected her health, with an irregular heartbeat seeing her hospitalised in late 2020
The week of Feb 22nd is make or break for my business. If a roadmap has not been given for weddings along with proper financial support then I will close my business and have to figure out payment plans to refund all 100+ brides over the course of the next year. I will have to find a full time job as soon as my children are allowed back at school.
My physical health has also been impacted, in September I was rushed to hospital and was in a serious condition for five days due to my heart going out of rhythm. I am now on very strong heart-stabilising and blood-thinning medication and have been told to keep my stress levels down…keeping my stress levels down is an impossible ask right now.
The person I am today is very different to who I was back in March. I used to be so driven, organised, focused. Now I feel like a shell of myself, I fight on the days that I feel strong but those days are getting less and less.
My weddings for 2021 are flying out of my diary fast, I’m trying to not let myself think that I will lose another wedding season as I fear this will break me. If I had met the ‘December me’ back in March I would not have recognised myself.’
Mat Hepplestone owns Red Floral Architecture, in Manchester, which normally provides ‘extravagant’ flowers for around 150 weddings a year. He says the constant fear of losing his business has sparked stress alopecia…
Florist Mat Hepplestone says he’s an upbeat person but that the last year has been ‘horrific’ and he’s been forced to rely on his parents to help him keep his business afloat
Mat, who’s based in Manchester but does weddings all over the UK, says the stress has caused him to develop alopecia
‘Last March, we thought our industry would be on pause for twelve weeks, how wrong we were. I was suddenly stuck with many fixed costs including rent, rates, eight vans on the road… the list goes on. I closed for two weeks, which was probably the worst two weeks of my life.
I developed stress alopecia, which has still to grow back and I now constantly wear a baseball cap. I feel like I’m watching a business that I built from nothing fifteen years ago slip through my fingers.
Mat has managed to keep Red Floral Architecture afloat by starting up a flower delivery service and attending markets – but he says he’ll have to make staff redundant if there’s no improvement in business soon
‘I am not the type to be beaten and was convinced this wasn’t going to get the better of me so I single-handedly set up a flower delivery business and a pop-up shop that opened at weekends selling unusual homewares. This was successful to a degree until the novelty wore off.
The financial elements have been hell on earth but I have managed to keep my head above water and pay the necessary whilst working 18 hours a day, seven days a week.
Many of my staff are on furlough, which is a godsend, but I personally haven’t earned a penny since March and have received no help and am now relying on my parents to help me through this horrific time.
I am a very much ‘glass overflowing’ kind of person so have not let this get the better of me, and I’m still convinced through hard graft I will save the future of this business. However, if large weddings don’t start again for several years…then it’s clear I’ll have to consider my future strongly.’
Rosie Woodhouse, a photographer on the Isle of Skye has seen 85 per cent of her income go in the last year…
Isle of Skye photographer Rosie Woodhouse (pictured) says wedding tourism is a huge part of the island’s economy
She says that international travel and Covid wedding restrictions have been a double whammy of pain for many working in the Isle of Skye’s wedding industry (Pictured: a couple photographed on their wedding day by Rosie)
The Isle of Skye is a sought-after wedding destination attracting large numbers of couples who marry and elope to Skye from around the globe. Particularly vital to our market are visitors from American, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong and Singapore in addition to couples and their friends and family from across the UK.
Weddings are central to tourism here and hotels, restaurants, celebrants, florists, hair and make-up artists, photographers, planners and cake makers have all been affected, experiencing a dramatic downturn in business.
We’re looking at the future with worry – and personally, I’ve experienced some real lows and periods of anxiety. The lack of a national roadmap for the resumption of weddings and travel (the two being intrinsically linked here) means that we are losing business daily as couples cannot make plans.
Weddings have a long lead period from two years to several months and even once we are able to re-open it will take time for our industry to generate income again.
Maintaining positivity has been difficult in the face of the business that I have built over the last decade suddenly being whipped from under my feet. I fell into the excluded category until recently and was unable to access support for the business.
I am so delighted that the Scottish government has now made funding available to wedding businesses but sadly the amount does not cover the fees I have had to refund to couples, nevermind the fixed costs of running my business.
Sophie Bampton, runs Foxy Ladies Catering in Gloucestershire. She says 90 per cent of her business has been lost in the last 12 months…
Professional caterer Sophie Bampton says she’s desperate to get planning and cooking after so long away from her normal working life
Sophie on her own wedding day; she says she’s lost 90 per cent of her business in the last year
‘I’ve spent over a decade building up my business, and I can’t pretend it’s not worrying seeing it – along with so many other wedding based businesses I work with – slowly grind to a halt.
The financial hit is one thing – and that is huge, our income stream simply stopped and we have had to reply on cooking Friday night takeaways in our kitchen to keep things ticking over – but the emotional side is also tough.
I miss working with my amazing team and clients – I really miss the buzz and excitement of a wedding.
It’s been hard to go from a busy team (who also rely on income from freelancing at our events) to home-schooling, which then makes it hard to diversify the business.
We all feel a little rusty and out of practise, I just want to get planning and cooking! I know as soon as I’m back in the heat of it, catering for 150 at a wedding, it’ll all click back into place, but thinking about it after what will be close to 18 months off, is a little daunting.’
THE CAKE MAKER
Claudia Green runs Greenfox Bakery, a bakery in Teddington, South West London, which specialises in wedding cakes. She says her business has lost £5,000 since the pandemic began, with bigger losses set to come without a roadmap…
Cake artist Claudia Green says without a plan for the wedding industry, she can’t guarantee her future income
Bakers are now looking at much smaller cakes as weddings downsize, with Claudia saying most couples are requesting just ‘one or in some cases two tier cakes’
‘I think that scientist is spot on! The biggest problem we have at the moment is that until we have a road map of how the wedding industry is going to open back up, couples can’t plan their weddings with certainty and it means that we can’t guarantee our incomes.
‘I’ve had one couple postpone twice, and I’ve now postponed my own wedding three times now, meaning that 2020 and 2021 income for suppliers has basically been wiped out! For the cake artists, we’re looking at small one or in some cases two tier cakes.
Those that choose to have their small ceremonies are still going for it with gusto, it’s just significantly scaled down which again, means our income is not as predicted.
A social media group called the Wedding Breakfast Club has kept me upbeat, it’s been so important in terms of trying to remain positive, and it’s helped chatting to people who are in the same boat as you. Of course, cake helps too.’
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