At the start of each day, we regroup as colleagues to assess the news updates of the past 24 hours. In so doing, we’re feeling a growing sense of despair in the pits of our tummies.
If you too have been reviewing the news of late for anything on weddings at all, you might feel disappointed as well, though our own personal disappointment has started to feel more like anxiety and anguish.
We fear that the truth is this: we’re being forgotten. That’s couples, suppliers, venues and bloggers/publishers like myself. Our wedding industry is not understood. An entire industry is being left behind and if this continues, the potential outcome for our industry is unthinkable.
We are at a critical point in time that requires us to mobilise, swiftly, and take considered action that will help the government to understand our plight and what absolutely must be done in order to support our industry moving forward. Please allow me first to highlight what we have been doing up to now.
WHAT WE’VE BEEN DOING THIS PAST FEW WEEKS
Since this crisis began, we’ve been working flat out hard to support everyone involved in weddings – suppliers, venues and couples too. In those early days back in March (feels like a lifetime ago), we began publishing content that informed and supported our readers. We shared postponement stories and tales of how couples had celebrated their ‘would have been’ wedding days. We reached out to our clients to offer as much support and reassurance as we could as many of them were panicking about immediate loss of business.
In our efforts to rally and support our community, we formed an alliance with a legal expert, the kind and empathetic Richard Cramer of Front Row Legal, and hosted multiple Zoom sessions with him where he educated both our clients and members of our bridal community (because trying to decipher those CMA guidelines required expert input!). As well as hosting zoom sessions for wedding planners (some 70+), we started a Facebook group for wedding suppliers (almost 5,000 of them now), providing a safe space to talk because, for a long time, suppliers were acutely aware that they couldn’t speak out about their own worries for fear of upsetting or causing concern for their clients.
In early June, we launched the first of our big ‘consumer surveys’ for couples planning weddings. We have always believed that the opinions of couples are critical to take into consideration, as we all try to navigate our way through this crisis. We’ve held two big surveys now (2000 brides responded over just 4 days to our latest one earlier this month) and on multiple occasions, we have presented our survey highlights and insights to large groups of suppliers via Zoom and Google webinar sessions. Every time we’ve surveyed – we’ve also held focus groups via zoom in the evenings, with a selection of survey respondents, enabling us to dig a little deeper with direct and meaningful conversation. Believe me when we say, this has been emotional and often traumatic – how easy it is to forget that weddings involve guests with terminal illnesses, elderly relatives who might not make it to the postponed date, couples who have put IVF and family plans on hold, couples who need to be married for VISA/cultural reasons, etc, etc. We’ve done all of this in an effort to ensure as many suppliers as possible fully understand the importance of a ‘360 perspective’ when working on solutions, because, no one size fits all.
Which brings us to the matter of diversity, inclusivity and representation.
We know how important this is, as we group with others in the industry to try to find a way forward. We are having important conversations and seeking that representation. Please trust us – this is not something that we can bring about full, required change on overnight, but we are doing our best to reach out to and initiate conversation with those representing different faiths and communities across the wedding industry. Doing our best to reach out has resulted in conversations with Asian Wedding Club suppliers and members from the African wedding community, amongst others. This is so important – because under the current guidelines, ethnic minorities have been excluded as a ceremony for 30 isn’t viable. The guidelines also excludes non binding ceremonies that for many ethnic minorities are more important than the legal ceremony – so these couples still can’t get married.
Back on 25th June, we provided a public update, after the government dropped their ‘Coronavirus outbreak FAQs: what you can and can’t do’ guidelines which specifically addressed weddings. We updated you here on Instagram and here on Love My Dress – asking for time to process the guidelines and work with others on a sensible way forward (much discussion in the TFC slack group ensued). In this update, we advised you that discussions are happening, that various wedding industry representatives had got a seat at the table at a meeting with a Business Minister. One of these industry representatives was the National Association of Wedding Professionals (NAWP). We’ve been in positive dialogue with NAWP, a long-established organisation that represents professionals from planners to florists and all areas of this multi-disciplinary industry.
A WEDDING INDUSTRY RECOVERY STATEMENT
We are appreciative of the industry associations who have been representing their members at government level. But we are uncomfortable that those of us who do not belong to these associations, therefore have no voice. There is a lack of representation of the wider, diverse and complex industry that we are and we must ensure that our voice is heard. And we want to ensure that the voices of couples that we represent are heard.
Last week, a group of like-minded industry colleagues came together informally, to write a statement to send to our various MPs. We hoped this would be a helpful starting point for a discussion around recovery for our industry. The statement was also shared by two of the co-signatories (Sarah Haywood and Guides For Brides) at a virtual roundtable discussion’ last Thursday, hosted by Yasmin Qureshi, MP for Bolton South East. She and other MP’s had been successfully lobbied by businesses in their constituencies, who had highlighted how crippling the lack of clarity was upon their businesses, particularly within the Asian communities, for whom large weddings are culturally very significant. All the MPs in this meeting were emailed the statement.
During this same meeting, which was attended by a number of industry professionals, various issues were discussed, including the huge toll on mental health on couples and suppliers alike, and the state of paralysis we all find ourselves in. We are all in this together, and unless things change for us all, no one is coming out of this unscathed.
We have tried to come up with ideas to help the industry and therefore to support couples. We don’t just want to layout the problems on paper, we want to propose ways to solve them. We have been raising the issue of wedding insurance and deposits and we have suggested solutions there too. Over the weekend, we and others involved in the creation of the statement, have sent it to our own MPs. We have also been engaging with MPs on social media. We need our elected representatives to listen and understand our plight.
This is really just the very beginning of the task that lies ahead to gather recognition and support for our wider industry at government level. Time is of the essence with the parliamentary summer recess commencing on 22nd July.
So what now?
WE NEED A ROADMAP, IMMEDIATELY
Without a roadmap, without any guidance from the government, couples, quite understandably, have felt fear and uncertainty, and postponed. Lots of suppliers have already lost all their business for this year. It’s important to remind ourselves at this stage that for most suppliers in the wedding industry, income is seasonal, with July and August the busiest months. Additionally, many wedding suppliers within the wedding industry are freelancers, sole traders and small limited businesses with limited government financial support about to end. Many of them fall into the 3 million people who represent #ForgottenLtd and #ExcludedUK.
We’re a diverse and complex industry and the ripple effect of big and small businesses alike going under, will have severe consequences, not only for them and their employees, but upon the sole trader and army of freelancers who are employed at every event. The wedding industry is an eco system of businesses, and each wedding business relies upon the other to deliver an event. And we’ve not even touched upon the potential disaster for rural communities.
Couples beyond this year are losing confidence too and the problems for businesses are compounding themselves, because, frankly, with no guidance, no roadmap and no clarity, there’s no end in sight.
Last week, Tamryn asked a question about weddings at the weekly Independent SAGE live, public panel session (hosted 11.30am every Friday via Youtube). The response below (and in fact, the entire hour+ long session) was sobering, to say the least. But it also raised the point of the current government ‘drift policy’, highlighting that there is no government strategy – and too little is being done (a warning they have reiterated on their Twitter account over the weekend):
Weddings are currently adrift. We are adrift with no rescue in sight.
This is the bit we need to wear our hearts on our sleeves with you a little, and be frank; We’re scared for the future of this industry. Very scared. We feel vulnerable writing this and the words that follow aren’t easy for any of us to share. We’re fearful for our livelihoods, careers and futures – and for the livelihood, careers and futures of all our wedding industry friends and colleagues too.
Up until now, I (Annabel) would never, ever have published such words on Love My Dress, but in these extraordinary, unparalleled times, we must be nothing but honest with each other and face reality. We all need for you to feel the sense of urgency in this article.
Wedding businesses are closing and talented individuals who have worked tirelessly for years are at breaking point. We know (from our focus groups) that couples feel utterly lost and many feel they are facing impossible positions; do they choose to wait in hope, postpone with all the emotional stress that comes to that or cancel altogether? None of us should be in the position we’re in right now. And we have a right to be heard on this. Businesses are being let down and left out. Couples are being ignored or made to feel that their wish for ‘their day’ is somehow frivolous, pointless and utterly vacuous. This is wrong on so many levels. To brush ‘weddings’ aside in this way is a fundamental misunderstanding of the culture, meaning and value of weddings and everything that surrounds them.
A wedding is still, for all those that choose to do this, important. It’s a vitally important milestone in your life, it’s a commitment and it’s a choice. It’s a celebration of life, love and family. It’s joyous and it’s an expression of everything that’s important to you. However you choose to celebrate, your wedding matters, it’s a right of passage that is the beginning to the next chapter of your life, for many that is starting a family. We know that small wedding ceremonies can take place, but, if you’re following the guidance, you shouldn’t be holding celebrations afterwards. Is that a wedding at all? Or is it simply a ‘legal ceremony’?
Weddings are important for businesses too. It’s (we think, under-)estimated that weddings contribute around £10 billion annually to the UK economy. We are an industry in freefall. Protecting this sector (a sector that’s worth a lot more than many others that have received way more support and attention up to now) should be a priority.
We represent the start of a re-opening for the wider ‘events industry’, that itself brings a staggering £70 billion into the economy and supports 700,000 jobs annually. If weddings can open up safely, everything else follows; conferences, corporate events, exhibitions, meetings of all sizes, fashion shows, festivals. It all starts with us. Not only are we losing income, we’re losing expertise too – people who’ve honed their craft for years, decades, are now claiming benefits and taking part-time work to get by. There are quite literally thousands of livelihoods at stake. Many business owners are worried about how they are going to feed their children and pay basic bills…
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We’re beginning to feel that perhaps we’ve not helped ourselves. For too long, we’ve sat by and watched brides turned into ‘bridezillas’ and become something to mock. We’ve allowed all those media stories and TV programmes that laugh behind their hands at couples, go unchecked. We’ve allowed wedding businesses to be seen as fluffy, lightweight hobbies and we’ve maybe all pandered to the ‘dream day’ concept a bit too much.
The industry that we know is a diverse and multicultural space, full of incredibly creative, talented and hard working individuals, many of whom have built their businesses from scratch; designers, makers, creators, visionaries, artists, artisans – every one an expert in their field. We have had enough of being forgotten and written off as something ‘not important’ – as lavish and unnecessary. Weddings represent the very essence of everything that we are missing right now; joy, love, celebration, freedom, dancing, hugging, kissing, togetherness. And we don’t believe you should be forced to have the kind of day you don’t want, just because we’re allowed to ‘open’ as an industry.
STAND UP & TAKE ACTION
MP Yasmin Qureshi is now asking ministers to urgently intervene and we are looking forward to the government’s response. This is a huge step forward and we believe that if we can all mobilise, couples and suppliers/venue owners alike, we have something definite to campaign around. Write to your MP now. Tell them how this is impacting you (your wedding or your wedding business). Tell them we need their urgent support.
Our industry must be heard. And sadly, we do not have the privilege of time on our side. There isn’t a single day to waste on this.
We’re not stupid. We know that throwing open the doors to huge weddings right now is not be the most sensible thing in the world. We only need look to the US and see the consequences of going too hard too soon. It’s terrifying. There’s a huge difference between spending a couple of hours in the pub with a few friends and spending 10+ hours in one space with a large group of people we just want to hug and kiss. But we also know that risks vary and no wedding is the same. And, we also see the images of restaurants, pubs and other gatherings everywhere and it hurts. It hurts our hearts and it is beginning to cripple the very heart of this industry.
Help us, please, make the right kind of noise, so that we can lobby together as one, strong, cohesive industry that is recognised for it’s talent and expertise, the thousands of livelihoods that are dependent on it and the many billions it contributes to the UK economy annually. Because when this is over, we all need to know that we did everything humanly possibly for the things that are important; our livelihoods and our families. And if we survive through to the other side of this crisis with our businesses intact, you, dear couples, get the day you’d always planned.
WHAT TO DO NEXT
If your wedding is impacted by the coronavirus or if you are wedding business owner, here are some things that you can do right now – we must stand up now and look forward, rather than going over old ground:
WEDDING SUPPLIERS & VENUES
Now is the time to speak up. Please send our industry statement to your local MP as soon as possible.
You can find a link to the statement, an MP letter template and how to find who your local MP is in this post in our Facebook Industry Support & Discussion group (if you haven’t got involved – now is the time).
Please kindly email your MP to tell them how this crisis has impacted your wedding plans.
And you can download an MP letter template here.
Find out who your local MP is here.
When writing to your MP, we encourage you to explain your story, explain your situation and explain the impact this is having on you. Keep it constructive – we’re not asking for instant and impractical changes after all. We don’t want to put you or anyone at risk and we don’t want to ask for the impossible. If you want to call out for support for the industry, please do (thank you). Explain that support for the industry is support for you too, and support for everyone else who’s waiting for their wedding.
HASHTAGS + TAGGING
Whenever you post anything on social media about this, please use the #WhatAboutWeddings hashtag.
There’s traction after last week’s meeting and MPs who’ve never spoken out about weddings before are doing so now. Support those MPs on Twitter, thank them for engaging with us and at all times, be positive and proactive in all you do.
Also, tag in your local MP, BBC News, your local BBC radio station/newspaper, national newspapers. The more noise right now, the better. The more frequently the message is heard, the better. We need to ask them all – what about weddings?
Here are some people we’ve been tagging on Instagram and Twitter (yes, Twitter is a thing all over again):
MP’s Instagram Tags
MP’s Twitter Tags:
Journalists / Broadcasters / Activists on Twitter (includes us)
Our Instagram Links
SOCIAL MEDIA IMAGES
And Finally, We All Require Clarity & Choice
Crucially, any guidelines we’re given absolutely must take into account the diversity and complexity of weddings of all faiths and all cultures. We need solutions that work for all weddings.
We all need the same thing – clarity and choice.
We can’t function (any of us – suppliers, venues or couples) without clarity, trust, honesty and support.
We understand this may be hard to read and a lot of information to digest, but we feel it’s only fair that we are honest and that our readers understand the reality of the current situation. However, we are an industry full of creative problem solvers. We are not standing idly by and we urge you to stand together with us.
Annabel and Tamryn
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