A 15th century delight that ‘wraps around you like a big hug’
With numerous unique spaces, Lillibrooke Manor can cater for all manner of outdoor functions from wedding ceremonies in the cloister to fun fairs in front of the Great Barn. Open Air Business caught up with Val Pearson, managing director of Heritage Venues, for a chat about what gives it its magic touch.
When did you start your function venue business?
Lillibrooke Manor has been operating as a wedding venue for over 30 years. The current owners bought the property two years ago, and have invested heavily in improving the grounds and barns. In particular, very high quality A/V, Wi-Fi and business services are now on offer in the Great and Small barns to cater for the wider corporate market.
Tell us about your location and site
Despite its close proximity to Junction 8/9 on the M4/M404, Heathrow and London, Lillibrooke offers an immersive countryside environment, with its 15th century manor house and barns set in 15 acres.
The name Lillibrooke appears to have been the original title of the manor and the present house is therefore known as Lillibrooke Manor. It means ‘babbling brook’.
It offers a huge number of stunning and unique photo opportunities, with highly flexible areas throughout the venue lending themselves to all manner of dressing and theming. We’ve had everything from fun fairs to hot air balloon themes, helicopters to softball over champagne. More than anything, its attraction is its unique feel – despite its size, and to quote a recent visitor, “Lillibrooke wraps around you like a big hug!”.
The biggest challenge is probably heating the Great Barn in the middle of winter, but we’ve found the right solution, adding aged oak and glass doors but retaining the original barn doors to preserve them as features. Despite its lack of insulation it’s a warm and comfortable environment, even for events with smaller guest numbers.
In line with the trend for brides and grooms to move away from hotels, and businesses away from conference centres, Lillibrooke offers a stimulating and inspirational environment. Period features are everywhere, such as the stone flagged floors, over-size fireplace and original bread oven in the Cottage Room.
What facilities for outdoor functions do you offer?
We have paddocks on both sides of the main driveway, which have multiple uses. The three acre walled field is perfect for ball games and team building activities, and the Manor House garden lawn is a natural spot for games, drinks receptions and picnics.
The sweeping drive and frontage of the manor house is ideal for photo shoots, filming, automotive, product launches, stalls and even narrow gauge steam engines! Elsewhere we have the Small Barn and Cloister Garden, and the Great Barn forecourt, which has played host to funfairs and vehicles. The Cloister is licensed for marriage ceremonies and the lawned area in front has a fountain and is ideal for afternoon tea in the height of summer, lawn games and team building exercises.
Temporary marquees can be put up on the orchard field. We don’t have any on-site accommodation as yet, but we hope to refurbish the Manor House and outbuildings in the future to offer this.
What services do you offer?
We cater for weddings, parties and corporate events. Both our barns and cloister are licensed for wedding ceremonies. We also have in-house chefs offering amazing food to suit all occasions and budgets, in-house event managers and a business services and office support team.
How do you work with your customers to make their event unique?
We’ve never seen two events the same at Lillibrooke because the venue and the service offering are tailored to deliver an individual client’s vision. Weddings have seen everything from fairy tale theming to Halloween, corporate events from major brand launches with product and marketing material displayed everywhere, to the Great Barn being filled with sofas and soft seating, living room style! Everyone has an utterly different take on the use of the venue and the service delivery they ask for around it – it’s always a thrill to see how each event looks and works, and of course to receive glowing testimonials afterwards.
How do you publicise yourself?
Mainly online wedding and corporate directories, plus vertical industry portals (a website that provides information related to a particular industry).
How would you describe your ‘style’ or unique selling point?
Relaxed, flexible, professional, friendly, bespoke – ‘anything is possible.’
What challenges have you faced?
Frozen pipes, a flooded office, cesspit problems (before the luxury of a main sewer connection last year!) – luckily nothing major affecting the venue spaces. Of course, maintaining and improving a listed property is a challenge in itself – we have learned a lot about lime mortar!
What are your plans for next season?
To expand our kitchens and toilet block, regenerate some of the outlying barns (re-roofing is being done in the cloister in the next two months), and hopefully bringing the Manor House back into use.
Describe your average day mid-season
Joyously manic – in a controlled way! Juggling lots of balls and watching them all land in the right place thanks to a brilliant team all pulling together to make it happen.
Do you enjoy the business and why?
Absolutely – there’s never a day the same. It’s stimulating, fun, and – let’s face it – how lucky are we to be working in such an amazing environment! We have a great team here, and we love seeing people’s reaction to Lillibrooke (it’s not uncommon for brides to cry when they see it for the first time!). Lillibrooke comes to life when the sound of laughter and activity fill the air. It really seems to actively adapt to whatever is happening, and adds an amazing depth to every use, during the day and at night.
Usually hired out exclusively, we opened our doors to the public for the first time last month to hold a Macmillan coffee morning. The Prime Minister Theresa May, and our local MP here in Maidenhead, visited on the day and said that Lillibrooke was ‘ideal’ for the hustle and bustle that our 500 guests created.
George Clarke’s Shed of the Year has also been filmed here for three years running, with beautiful footage around Lillibrooke.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
Listen to your clients, deliver what they need and price it reasonably. Recurring corporate business, word of mouth recommendation from weddings and parties, and good local relationships are your lifeblood. Network hard, open your doors and offer what you reasonably can (in our case it’s afternoon teas on the lawns, which is a great enticement for office-tired execs to get out in the sunshine and make good connections at the same time).
If you nurture and invest in your venue, your passion for it will shine through and people will want to share in it.
Lillibrooke Manor, Ockwells Road, Cox Green, Maidenhead, SL6 3LP