Yesterday evening, we were tipped off ahead of a press release embargoed until late, that the government were going to be enabling wedding receptions for up to 30 people in England, from Saturday 15th August.
We were taken aback! None of us were expecting this news. The #WhatAboutWeddings campaign team quickly set out to prepare how to notify the wedding community (including couples, suppliers and venues). My Whatsapp was ablaze by 8pm. I’m completely aware that this sounds bonkers for a Thursday evening in the middle of summer, however, we’ve been living and breathing this as a team, since April. I’ve lost count of the number of early morning and late night Zoom conversations we’ve had. We’ve planned social media campaigns that have had to change at the very last minute, when The Prime Minister has pulled an eleventh hour u-turn. We’ve rallied thousands of suppliers and couples to lobby their MPs, we’ve been tracking questions raised in the Houses of Parliament, our hashtag has trended regularly on Twitter and been used by MPs, celebrities and even by campaigners in different countries – leading to live interviews across multiple TV and radio stations. Our efforts have lead to an increase in media coverage and weddings have now started to be acknowledged as a sector that needs to be addressed.
We’ve tried very hard to illustrate what weddings mean to both couples and businesses beyond the traditional parody of ‘fluffy dresses’ and bridezillas. We have also worked hard to shine a spotlight on the rich diversity of our sector.
We’ve raised our voices and thousands of you have joined us shoulder to shoulder. We are humbled beyond belief.
By 9.30pm on Thursday evening, a number of faces carrying a look of Thursday night Fatigue (my own included!) were huddled around dimly lit office screens and an urgent Zoom call, to discuss the message we wanted to present to the wedding community once the press embargo lifted by 10.30pm…
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WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?
By midnight last night, we had two sets of guidance for our sector, which you can now access below:
- COVID-19: Guidance for small marriages and civil partnerships (ceremony guidelines)
- COVID-19: Guidance for wedding and civil partnership receptions and celebrations (reception guidelines)
The biggest change in the new reception guidelines above, is as follows:
This guidance supersedes previous guidance. From 15 August 2020 receptions and other celebrations for weddings and civil partnerships can take place, but only in a COVID-19 secure environment/venue. Such events should not take place in people’s private homes (or adjoining outdoor spaces like gardens), given that these will not have the same COVID-19 Secure measures in place. Capacity at a wedding or civil partnership reception or celebration (including the couple, guests and third-party suppliers, but not venue staff or third-party catering staff) should be limited to a number that can be safely accommodated with social distancing in a COVID-19 secure venue, and should be no more than 30. We will re-assess guidance in relation to larger wedding receptions in line with the development of the scientific advice. (Source)
We must acknowledge that this is a small but very positive step forward for many. It’s not perfect, by a long way, but it’s a start, and we must hold on to that.
However, whilst this feels like a small win – we still face multiple challenges that absolutely must be addressed, with great urgency, if we are to avoid the closure of thousands of businesses and venues in our sector.
This is not an opportunity for us to ease up on our #WhatAboutWeddings campaign efforts. On the contrary, the government are paying attention to our sector and we now need to continue until the areas we want to see addressed, namely clarity (a roadmap), parity (for all weddings and all wedding businesses) and choice (financial support) are all dealt with satisfactorily.
The new and updated guidelines do not support wedding receptions in people’s private homes, or adjoining outdoor spaces like gardens (because, according to their own updated guidance, ‘these will not have the same COVID-19 Secure measures in place’) – meaning swathes of couples who had wished to celebrate their wedding this way, will be unable to and thousands of wedding businesses who rely on income from such weddings are now at high risk. A Hindu ceremony requires a small, symbolic fire, as part of the traditional ceremony, which very few venues will permit. That’s part of the reason why so many Hindu wedding ceremonies are held in private garden spaces. The existing restrictions towards faith and cultural ceremonies are still limiting many people of faith to be able to fully go ahead with their ceremonies – and these have more significance to them than a civil ceremony.
We acknowledge and see these and many more shortfalls and flaws. We will be campaigning harder than ever before to educate Government and enable our sector to safely open up further. Which leads me nicely on to my next and most important point.
We absolutely have to talk about behaving responsibly and with integrity in light of these updated guidelines. Because if we don’t, these easing of restrictions will be reversed, and our sector shut down at the drop of a hat.
We Cannot Become Super-spreaders
So much hard work has been invested by so many in recent months in an effort to educate and inform the government on the unique and specific needs of our sector. The government are listening, and doing what they can. It might not be much, but it’s something. It’s a start.
The guidance we have in place and all the boundaries, limitations and restrictions that come along with them are there for a reason. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if we agree with them or not. But we absolutely, categorically MUST adhere to them. If we start picking the guidelines apart, dissecting the language and interpreting it our own way in an effort to find loopholes, then we are clearing a path that will lead towards a rapid and guaranteed return to sector lockdown.
We understand how tempting it might be to stretch that 30 people limitation to 35, 39, 40 even. We understand how frustrating it is that you can’t celebrate with a reception in your parents’ back garden with a tiny gathering of 25. We understand how unfair it will feel to have to count any live performers within your allocation of 30, and that you won’t be able to sing or dance with wild abandon. But if we start turning a blind eye, pushing the boundaries and disrespecting the guidelines, we risk becoming super-spreaders. And then what? The government will look at us and they will see that we cannot be trusted, that weddings are unsafe and they might put a stop to the whole lot.
It’s a scary thought. But do you remember when a pandemic felt like that too?
We’ve been on calls with Independent Sage and asked these questions. Serious scientists are really nervous about the prospect of even 30 people being able to gather together inside. Being able to do this does not make it completely safe.
Sir David King, of Independent Sage, on BBC Breakfast, Friday 14th August
We’re still very much living through a pandemic. Our sector guidelines have been put in place for a reason. They are there for everyone to protect everyone. If everyone is responsible – if we look after ourselves, our businesses, our clients and our sector, then we will come out of this OK. If we don’t – the minute we start ‘cheating’ the system, we risk being shut down or locked inside a perpetual cycle of start-stop-start-stop. We cannot see all the hard work of the past few months go up in a puff of smoke because of a minority of individuals behaving irresponsibly.
Brides, grooms – please don’t ask your venue or suppliers to break the guidelines.
Suppliers – please don’t work at weddings that you know do not meet the guidelines.
We all must exhibit integrity at all times.
We all must support our sector by respecting the guidelines.
We all must protect ourselves, our clients, each other and everyone involved in weddings by adhering to the guidance and behaving responsibly.
Everybody has a part to play in this.
If we don’t, then all the #WhatAboutWeddings hard work, all the lobbying and campaigning undertaken by you, and everyone else, will be worth nothing at all. We truly shudder at the thought, and don’t even want to think about how that could impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of people whose weddings will be affected, again, or whose businesses will end up going to the wall.
Furthermore, everyone working in the wedding sector needs to be reminded that public liability insurance will be invalid if you operate against government guidance. Please be warned.
We know this is hard, but weddings are worth it.
THE HIGHLIGHTS FOR YOU TO DIGEST MORE EASILY
We know you’re all time strapped and fed up of deciphering guidelines and bewildering updates, so we’ve done our best to highlight the key pieces of information you need to know about following these latest announcements.
What does it mean for our safety?
- We must ALL be responsible.
- Suppliers/venues – you are not insured if you do not follow government guidelines.
- Keep a very close eye on symptoms; “It is crucial that all staff, attendees and third-party suppliers visiting reception or celebration venues are not showing any symptoms of COVID-19. Anyone displaying symptoms should stay at home and get tested”.
- If we are sensible and respect the guidelines, we have a much better chance of our sector’s restrictions being eased further in the coming weeks and months. If we exploit the guidance and keep seeking to find loopholes, then we risk being shutdown. Last weekend, West Midlands Police shut down 125 parties and raves – and closed a pub – taking action to stop illegal gatherings and anti-social behaviour across the region.
Highlights from the English guidelines
- Wedding receptions can only take place in COVID-19 secure venues. They cannot take place in private gardens or adjoining outdoor spaces like gardens.
- Capacity at a wedding or civil partnership reception or celebration (including the couple, guests and third-party suppliers, but not venue staff or third-party catering staff) should be no more than 30 and safely accommodated with social distancing in a COVID-19 secure venue.
- Attendees should remain seated to support social distancing safety measures. They should be reminded at key points during the events to maintain social distancing and to avoid physical contact with individuals from different households.Venues and guest numbers should be chosen to ensure 2 metre spacing is possible for the main sections of the celebrations.
- Attendees and staff are strongly encouraged to wear a face covering where social distancing may be difficult and where they come into contact with people they do not normally meet, in line with the guidance on face coverings.
- Venue managers should provide hand sanitiser at convenient points throughout the venue, and encourage attendees to use it.
- Venue managers should record the names and contact details of all persons visiting the venues and keep a written record for at least 21 days to support NHS Test and Trace.
- Wherever possible staff should serve all food and drinks to minimise customer self-service and attendees should remain seated.
- Seating arrangements should follow social distancing guidance, meaning that at most two households (including any support bubbles) are seated together and social distancing is maintained between these groups. Outdoor table service is also preferable.
- Dancing is not permitted.
- Venues intending to incorporate any live music, drama or comedy performance should strictly adhere to the Performing Arts guidance.
- Outdoor performances are always preferable.
- Indoor performances should be;
- limited in size,
- implement strict social distancing rules,
- only take place where high rates of air flow can be maintained,
- should use amplification systems to create volume rather than natural voices and should discourage vocal responses or audiences joining in.
- All performers are included in your 30 number so this needs to be taken into consideration.
- Raised voices need to be avoided – refraining from playing music at a volume that makes normal conversation difficult, and avoiding activities such as communal singing or chanting.
- Other activities where people watch (such as cake cutting) should take place with social distancing being maintained at all times and the numbers of guests involved limited wherever possible, with people remaining in their households/bubbles.
- Activities that involve objects being thrown (such as confetti or bouquet toss) or passed from person to person should be avoided to reduce the likelihood of transmission.
- Speeches should be undertaken outside or in well ventilated areas wherever possible – PA systems should be utilised wherever possible to help amplify speeches without speakers needing to raise their voices.
- Air flow is important – windows and doors should be opened as much as possible, and the sides of marquees removed or rolled up, throughout the event and when groups of staff are preparing and clearing away. Air conditioning systems using recirculated air are not advised.
- Other objects in the venue being touched by several people (such as guest books or polaroid camera stations) should be minimised and hand sanitisation encouraged both before and after contact.
- The exchange of cards and gifts during receptions and celebrations should be minimised wherever possible.
- Consequences – The actions the enforcing authority can take include the provision of specific advice to venues to support them to achieve the required standard, through to issuing enforcement notices to help secure improvements. Serious breaches and failure to comply with enforcement notices can constitute a criminal offence, with serious fines and even imprisonment for up to 2 years.
The Future Collective team have been working hard in the background to bring you further answers as to what these guidelines mean and show you how you can still have a beautiful wedding within these guidelines. The website is hoping to be launched next week so check back at covidsafeweddings.co.uk then.
We truly hate to say this, but weddings are not exempt – whether it’s because your suppliers or venue are in the area of local lockdown, you or your guests are in the area – the rules still need to be adhered to.
The number of households permitted to gather in indoor and outdoor spaces could vary with local restrictions. You should consult your local guidance for further clarification on the number of households permitted to gather. Information on local restrictions can be found here.
We believe it is our individual responsibility to keep an eye on the news and what is happening in our local areas. This will help us all stay informed and assist in safe decision making around your wedding.
All the rules around weddings have quite literally gone out the window over the past few months, so if you need to make any last minute changes to your wedding plans, people will fully understand.
Guidelines For Wales
The intention is that from Saturday 22nd August:
- Up to four households will be able to join together to form a single extended household.
- A meal following a wedding, civil partnership or funeral will be allowed for up to 30 people indoors if social distancing can be maintained.
Guidelines For Scotland
In Scotland, we know that wedding ceremonies and civil partnerships have been able to take place since 15th July. However, there is still no further sign yet of when wedding receptions will be able to take place.
You can find out further information here.
SO WHAT NOW?
- It’s too late for many couples now who have already postponed their 2020 weddings to 2021 and beyond.
- A 30 person wedding simply isn’t profitable for most venues or suppliers, placing our sector under even more financial strain.
- Financial support is still, urgently required for our sector.
- Clarity is still, urgently required, to enable our sector to plan their survival and recovery.
- Parity is still, urgently required. This is something that has been missing from the government guidelines from the very start and we will not stop campaigning until we get it.
We will keep on fighting for our sector.
We will keep on lobbying and help you to do so too.
We will not stop until we obtain the clarity, parity and choice we set out to achieve through the #WhatAboutWeddings campaign.
Join us over at our new website, whataboutweddings.co.uk to find out more – we’ll be adding to our new website resource over the coming days.
PLEASE ENJOY YOUR DAY
You can still have a safe wedding. Follow the guidelines and your wedding day won’t end up being something you need to worry about. By adhering to the guidelines, you are removing as much risk as possible from your celebration.
This is just the start. We’re here.
Annabel, Tamryn and Nina