Winners of the coveted Wedding Industry Awards East Midlands Wedding Event Team of the Year explain what makes their venue such a success
Bawdon Lodge Farm is a National Forest site nestled in the heart of the Charnwood Forest, an area of outstanding beauty in Leicestershire. Its 30 acres coupled with its dedicated events team provide a blank canvas for award-winning tipi and marquee weddings and events. We spoke to owners Richard and Lynn Bailey about why their venue is not just a field on a farm!
When did you start your function venue business?
The Bailey family has been farming in Nanpantan, Loughborough, since 1924, first as diary farmers before moving into arable. Richard represents the third generation of the Bailey family to farm in Nanpantan. In 1994, Richard and his mother, Pat, moved up to Bawdon Lodge Farm and in 2012 we took over the business with our daughter Annabelle.
I have a background in the events industry, having worked in hospitality for 27 years and Richard has experience in farming and management, with an ability to ‘make things work’. Living on this beautiful farm and organising our own wedding in 2007 we found that we not only enjoyed sharing the organisation but also faced some challenges, which others may do too.
After our marriage, we realised that there may be other like-minded people who were interested in a similar outdoor style wedding. After much research, liaison with local wedding planners and recognising our own skills, Bawdon Lodge Events Ltd opened for business.
What facilities for outdoor functions do you offer?
We host tipi, yurt and marquee weddings and events, offering planning and co-ordination to ensure that the special occasion runs smoothly. We don’t offer structures or packages as such. We get to know our guests and help them to design a unique day.
Hire of the structures is done separately, but we have partnerships with local tipi and marquee suppliers that we respect, wholeheartedly recommend and love working with.
We offer exclusive use of Bawdon Lodge Farm, which includes mown and tendered fields with our fabulous oak tree, deluxe toilets (with our essential toiletries package), car parking with lighting, guest and car park assistants, access to electricity and water, and our own rustic and palette bars, which offer a range of beverages including locally brewed beers, exclusive wines, spirits and soft drinks. Burleigh’s Gin is distilled on the farm and we use this in a variety of our Kilner cocktails.
Over the years we have developed both the farm and the team to offer more for our clients; from luxury loos, bespoke decorative pieces and up-cycled farming furniture through to the handmade oak bar with drinks packages including unique cocktails. We continually grow with our clients’ needs.
What services do you offer?
It was amazing that our wealth of outdoor event planning and team were recognised at The Wedding Industry Awards 2017. Hosted by founders Damian and Anna Bailey (no relation), we enjoyed an evening of celebrations with our industry friends in November 2016.
You can hire a field on a farm and often that is all you get. Bawdon Lodge Farm aims to offer so much more. Any of our unique weddings enjoy exclusive use of Bawdon Lodge Farm for four days, on-site co-ordination by the events team, three meetings prior to the event, and supplier liaison and support via email and telephone. We are also fully licensed for late entertainment and bar facilities.
We like to understand our clients’ needs and signpost them to ideas that may be of interest as well as advising on industry trends. We encourage our clients to pass on their supplier’s details to us so that we can establish the operational side of the planning, such as electricity requirements, arrival times and requests, and so we can explain the set up of the farm, access requirements and so on. This helps us to build a confident relationship with the suppliers and they know that when they come to Bawdon Lodge Farm they will be looked after. The kettle is always on!
At this point we start to collate and produce a schedule of the day, which details all activity including the timings of the event. From the arrival of suppliers and guests to the best man’s contact number, we have it covered. The day before, after we have helped with the set-up and styling, we hold a handover with the clients to finalise any details.
A typical wedding will be organised over four days with copious quantities of Lynn’s famous brownies to keep everyone going. Day one is structure build, day two is styling, catering and bar set up, day three is the wedding celebrations, and day four is take down.
How do you research and source your tipis and marquees?
We simply work with the best. We have the outdoor event planning expertise and a beautiful location. We then work with award-winning event industry friends who we know will deliver an exceptional hire service to our clients.
It was a learning curve at first. Not all wedding suppliers are the same or provide the level of care and support that we want our clients to enjoy! We now have an enviable friendship with key local suppliers, giving us the chance to concentrate on making sure the event runs without a hitch and still provide the very best in tipi or marquee hire.
How do you work with your customers to make their event unique?
We give our clients time; time with us, time with our suppliers and space to explore all their ideas. We have at least three meetings prior to the big day and we are in constant contact to help them create a day that is as unique as they are.
Again, our relationship with suppliers helps us create a unique experience at every event. From award-winning catering that reflects each client’s wishes through to stunning flowers, décor and amazing entertainment, each day is personal and unique. Our motto is ‘Your wedding, your way.’
Instead of a pre-decorated hotel room, an outdoor event provides a blank canvas. We work hard to ensure each celebration is personalised to reflect our clients’ style and wishes.
How do you publicise yourself?
We have a strong website and online presence that helps prospective clients to find us. Through regular updates on social media and emails we stay on top of all enquiries and spread our ‘wedding news’ far and wide. We are often featured on wedding industry blogs and attend industry networking events and meet ups.
Entering and winning nationally recognised awards has elevated our position and generated media support and followers.
Twice a year we hold spectacular showcase events where a full wedding tipi is packed with the best suppliers working together to demonstrate new wedding trends. We create the full magical atmosphere of an outdoor celebration, which helps our clients to visualise how their day could take place at the venue.
Referrals from happy clients recommending us to their engaged friends also bring in lots of enquiries.
How would you describe your ‘style’ or unique selling point?
Attention to detail and friendly, supportive help at every step of the planning stages means our clients enjoy a stress-free, perfect day.
Always open to a challenge, we don’t say no without good reason! No client or wedding is the same so there really is complete flexibility to personalise the celebrations, with the events team following closely behind with a toolbox and cuppa in hand.
What challenges have you faced?
Our biggest challenge is time. We started the event side of the business with a couple of bookings. We’ve quadrupled in size in a couple of years and have had to build the admin support and systems quickly to handle the demand.
We have also obtained planning permission for our grain barn on the farm to be converted into a coffee shop and small function room, with a view to gaining a license for wedding ceremonies. Juggling planners and bureaucracycan be challenging and always takes way longer than you hope.
The British weather is always a challenge; we cannot do anything about what happens in the sky but we can manage what happens on the ground. With tipi and marquee weddings our team is on hand with umbrellas, coats and vehicles to aid guests on-site, blankets for keeping warm and sun tan lotion for protection.
We work with the structure companies to prepare the ground as much as possible to avoid rain gathering by spiking the ground. The team is constantly positive and optimistic to keep guests happy – come rain, hail, snow or sunshine (all of which happened on the same day at one wedding!).
Our team is kitted out with all weather gear, from t-shirts and lotion to waterproof coats, hats, high viz tops and walkie talkies, and we constantly have the urn on so they can always get themselves a hot drink.
What are your plans for next season?
Next season we are fully booked for weddings and 2018 isn’t far behind. Our longer term goal is to get the coffee shop up and running with the option of an indoor function room.
We have held some very successful corporate events, from networking sessions and shopping events through to product launches and photo shoots. We are looking at growing this side of the business and the converted barn will help with this. Bawdon Lodge Farm is very a flexible, blank canvas and attracts a wide market from birthday picnics to 200 plus guest weddings. Ideas such as an outdoor cinema, live music, corporate and community events are also in the pipeline!
Describe your average day mid-season
Each day is different and always very busy. We still run a working farm and that keeps us on our toes! We take great pride in the main event fields and oak tree, and tend to them regularly.
The day of an actual wedding starts at about 6.30am and ends at about 2am the following morning. We always find time to have breakfast, which is a great opportunity to catch up with the team. One of our guests described herself as a swan floating across the lake, oblivious to the mad kicking of legs that we provide underneath to keep the event gliding smoothly on.
Each day is varied from road closures and water being switched off to bands breaking down and cakes wilting in the heat. No two weddings are the same and it is our job to make sure everyone has an amazing time and gets safely home in waiting carriages.
Do you enjoy the business and why?
We love our business. We love working with all our clients, all our suppliers, our brilliant and supportive team, and with each other. The sense of achievement and sheer pleasure of overseeing a successful event is what we get up for. We also have a better work-life balance.
There are tough days of course. No business is plain sailing and jumping through red tape hoops is sometimes tough. But when the letters of thanks come in, filled with great memories and happy photos, it makes it all so worthwhile. The Wedding Industry Award is the cherry on the cake.
We operate on a quality over quantity basis and work very hard to offer a limited number of very special wedding days, delivered with extra care and thought.
What other outdoor sectors do you operate in?
In late 2012, Bawdon Lodge Farm became a Certified Location with The Caravan Club and we regularly welcome caravans and motor homes to our beautiful site. We also offer our award-winning events team and bar service at external events along with luxury toilet hire. In addition, we offer consultations so if clients are considering an event at their home or in a village hall or similar, we will offer a site visit and consultation to provide specialist outdoor event advice and guidance. We can also run the event for them.
What advice would you give someone coming into the industry?
Be prepared to sacrifice prime summer weekends, although if you are farming too this won’t be anything new! The level of support required by clients varies greatly so you need to be confident and approachable to enable you to deal with their requests. They will inevitably be worrying about the most important day of their lives so peace of mind for them is key.
Meet with a variety of suppliers and work with those who have the same ethos as you. Forming strong collaborations has been a source of great friendship and inspiration for us. Make sure your suppliers will deliver the level of service you expect, as they obviously reflect on you and your business reputation. We recommend suppliers who our clients have had a great experience with.
Stand by your prices. You know how much time and effort goes into each event. You are worth your price. When you first start out it’s easy to say ‘any customer is a good customer’. You will soon learn that is not the case.
Never give up. The hard work is worth it. We are very proud of our farm venue, team and the events we organise and host.
Sami Tipi – 01332 806040 / www.samitipi.co.uk
Peak Tipis – 0344 411 3460 / www.peaktipis.co.uk
Every Occasion Marquees – 01636 706420 / www.every-occasion.com
Bond Marquees – 01332 864128 / www.bondmarquees.co.uk
Inside: supplied by structure companies
Oak tree lighting: Premier Events – 0116 202 9953 / www.premier-event-services.com
Supplied by structure companies
NFU Mutual – 0808 274 9600 / www.nfumutual.co.uk
Nanpantan, Loughborough, LE12 9YE