A wedding ceremony outside: how difficult can it be? Isabel Smith guides Open Air Business readers through the legalities and practicalities.
We live in an age where a wedding taking place in Singapore can be live-streamed to a bride sitting in her pyjamas in Denmark, and where a couple can look to Big Sur, California, for inspiration for their Norfolk coastal wedding via Google images or Pinterest. Couples view stunning and creative imagery of fairytale weddings taking place in every imaginable setting and think to themselves ‘we want some of that’ even if it means braving the unreliable British weather.
In fact, outdoor wedding ceremonies are becoming so popular that the mainstream venue directories, like Hitched.co.uk, allow you to filter search results by those offering outdoor ceremonies or, at least, feature in their descriptions the outdoors policy of each venue. Yet, both the public and the industry remains largely uneducated about what is and what isn’t allowed when it comes to legally marrying out of doors. The investment and administration to set this up isn’t as terrifying as you might think and really does add another string to your bow.
The first thing to know is that registering an outdoor space as an approved venue with your local registry office is, in truth, no different to registering one of your indoor spaces. UK law does require that the wedding itself take place under a permanent structure, large enough for the bride, groom, officiant, registrar and actual registry documentation to sit, but beyond this (ie, where the guests might sit) is totally up to you. This structure might consist of a wooden or stone pagoda, a purpose built hut or garden room or indeed simply the stone porch which leads into a building, such as that found at Lemore Manor in Herefordshire.
According to the official guidance from the Registrar General’s office, ‘premises’ are defined as ‘a permanently immovable structure comprising at least a room, or any boat or other vessel which is permanently moored. Any premises outside this definition, such as the open air, a tent, marquee or any other temporary structure and most forms of transport, would not be eligible for approval.’
If you are fortunate to be building your own structure, think sensibly about positioning: far enough away from your main building to create the romantic atmosphere, but not at such a distance that guests in heels will struggle to reach it if the ground is a little soggy. And, of course, make sure that the couple and the guests will get the best possible view.
Your local licensing officer will then need to visit the site: to ensure that the space fits in with the above definition; to determine its suitability in terms of fire regulations and other health and safety concerns; to ensure that the venue can reasonably be accessed by the public; and, that it is deemed ‘seemly and dignified’ for the purpose of marriage ceremonies. Once approved, there is a fee to license your venue and ongoing conditions to be met, but from a legal perspective you are good to go.
Legalities aside, should your couples be looking for an outdoor ceremony that suits their spiritual needs, there are no hard and fast rules regulating non-legal ceremonies. If their vicar, priest, rabbi or imam is willing to officiate at your venue, then crack on by all means, as long as your clients are aware that they will need to legally marry at the registry office some other time. Another option is the Humanist Society which has a number of trained professionals all over the UK who are able to write and perform symbolic ceremonies entirely tailored to the client’s beliefs and outlook.
Whether going down the legal route or not, once you have the formalities sorted there are, of course, still one or two practical issues to be thought through – not least the weather. Your bride and groom will be covered during the ceremony itself – the registrar will have ensured that during the legal process – but what about the guests? You’ve got to have a plan! Melanie Kiani of Beach Weddings Bournemouth – the master at weather planning – says “…as the only venue in England and Wales where weddings can legally take place on the beach, you can well imagine that we keep a close eye on the weather all the time. We need to erect a marquee for each and every event. If we’re lucky with the weather, the guests can sit with two sides open to create the al-fresco feeling with the couple and registrar in our bespoke wedding beach hut, but if the weather doesn’t play ball we drop the two sides with their panoramic window walls so you still know you’re at the beach.”
If you’re not on the beach or able to build coverage for each individual event, use common sense to keep things simple. If you have an indoor space that seats 120, don’t sell an outdoor wedding for more than that number of guests or where will you put them all if the weather fails on the day? When weather proofing, don’t overlook the importance of the smaller details. Simply having a couple of white golf umbrellas to hand can help ensure your bride remains pristine as she makes it from her room or the car to the aisle.
It’s worth giving a little thought to what your guests will be sitting on too. Your venue might already have a stock of lovely dining chairs for receptions, but do you want them to be available for outdoor use? Bear in mind that even a light sprinkling of rain can ruin furniture or cause your seats’ legs to sink into the mud, and it will quickly sustain damage if moved from place to place a great many times.
One final, practical consideration for outdoor weddings is sound. You will be amazed how little can be heard by guests at the back when outside, even from the lips of the most confident officiant and couple. I strongly recommend investing in a portable PA/speaker/mic system to ensure that every word can be heard.
All in all, if you offer indoor wedding ceremonies, there really isn’t much standing in your way to offer an outdoor option too. It provides another feature for your marketing efforts and might just open up a broader range of clients and, of course, more weddings. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
About the Author
Isabel Smith has 10 years in the wedding industry behind her both as one of the UK’s top wedding planners as well as a business consultant for venues and other suppliers. Isabel’s expertise spans marketing, sales and operations as she helps new vendors launch as well as assisting established businesses should they find their sales falling. www.isabelsmithconsulting.co.uk / www.isabelsmithweddings.co.uk