A secluded, off-grid woodland venue offering an ancient barn and giant tipis.
Purchased on a whim, a solid ROI made the case for the creation of Bridal Barn as a venue. We talk to Ben Davies about how he created a simple offering with great appeal, a mile from the nearest power source.
When did you start your venue business and what is its history?
My father in law and I purchased the site three years ago and we opened on the 1 June this year. In three months we had over 30 bookings.
Tell us about your location and site
It is 80+ acres of woodland with a sandstone barn near to Bridgnorth in Shropshire.
We purchased it on a bit of a whim at auction. We were at a farm sale when we were told the land was coming up for sale. My father in law had tried to buy it 25 years beforehand as he loved it and it was only three miles from where we live.
Originally we had intended to convert the sandstone building on site for residential use but the cost of putting in the services would have been £100k (we are a mile away from a power supply). I had worked in the wedding industry as a photographer and seen the increase in the trend for Bohemian style events so we decided to turn it into a rustic wedding venue. It all kind of evolved in the right direction very naturally – the woodland itself is actually called Bridal Coppice!
It has always been our fall back plan to convert the barn into residential use if we have to but so far the venue offers a much better ROI.
What facilities for outdoor functions do you offer?
The barn is our calling card. It was derelict when we purchased the site so we rebuilt one part and re roofed the other using oak trusses to keep as much character as we could. We have done a few barn conversions in the past so knew what we were dealing with.
We also have two giant tipis. We position one in the courtyard outside of the barn and the other in the woodland to add a little magic. They are offered in addition to the venue hire but so far every couple has booked them.
We also have a shepherds hut which we market as a perfect honeymoon suite. Apart from that we have put in grass paths, and parking on hardcore and gravel.
What services do you offer?
We are licensed for wedding and civil ceremonies, which is very important for us as over 50 per cent of the couples who have booked have wanted to get married on site. The new, more relaxed rules for licensing makes it possible for couples to marry outside then step inside the barn to conduct the legal formalities such as signing the register. We are also licensed for events (music, alcohol etc.) although we don’t have corkage so people can bring their own drinks.
We are self catering but have facilities on-site in a side room of the barn (water and electric) for caterers to use when preparing food.
Describe how you researched and sourced your structures
I had never been inside a tipi before but saw a picture and just knew they would be a perfect for our venue as we struggle for space with groups over 100.
The tipis were an impulse buy in the end – two came up for sale online at such a good price I had to have them. I hired them out for a season to external events, which was a baptism of fire!
The flooring and lighting were extra – I was a bit naive with what all the additionals would cost. We use a Dandy Dura matting in the woodland marquee and I built a timber deck for the courtyard structure. We use festoon lights leading up to the woods and have up lit a few trees for an enchanted woodland atmosphere at night.
With the help of a carpenter, I built the shepherds hut myself from a £90 chassis I got in a farm sale. I now understand why they cost what they cost new. I spent about £12,500 on parts and labour – a saving no doubt, but a lot of work!
How do you work with your customers to make their events unique?
We offer exclusivity, no corkage and a blank slate for couples to create what they wish. The decision to allow couples a free rein is two fold – it is less responsibility/work for us and allows customers to use whichever suppliers they want, which hopefully saves them money.
We have only done three events to date and I am sure there will be instances where I wish that I did have a preferred suppliers list that I have vetted but so far so good! The only stipulation we have is that caterers are certificated and have all their hygiene practices in place etc. This is very important.
How do you publicise yourself?
So far, through Facebook alone. Being a graphic designer has helped tremendously as I was able to create visuals myself. I had a drone video made and it has had around 5,000 hits and done everything I needed it to do in terms of ‘selling’ the venue.
How would you describe your ‘style’ or unique selling point
A rustic, informal, self-catering woodland venue.
How have you researched the market?
I knew the market well from my wedding photography days and have some good contacts. I also visit trade shows such as the Showman’s Show and the Glamping Show, and keep up to date with Open Air Business of course.
How do you find it working with your father in law?
It’s great. He has his own ideas and input but lets me get on with it. He is still surprised that people want a wedding in a barn.
What challenges have you faced?
We are entirely off-grid and run off generators – at the moment we have a 66kVA SDMO which is probably too big so I am thinking of reducing the size but having two sister generators so one can act as a back up should the worse happen.
Our water comes from a bore hole and we have a septic tank to treat waste. We have a sustainable ethos, which is also a necessity as we are in such a remote, unconnected location.
When it came to planning we hired a consultant as they speak the right lingo. The local authority was actually very supportive and helpful, even suggesting we do more here.
A couple of our neighbours did object, and I can’t blame them for that. They are physically a mile away and we do everything we can to keep them informed about when events are on and try to keep good relations.
What are your plans for next season?
I am interested in adding some pod accommodation in the woodland but in a sensitive way – not overdeveloped. At the most we will have two weddings a week but I am not sure it will be commercial to offer them for let for just one night. It will all come down to ROI.
I am also looking at how we might get into the corporate events market, and maybe even wakes. A small public event might also be a possibility if it was done sensitively. I know the site would lend itself to a Santa’s grotto type event but I don’t want to cash in on Christmas in a tacky way – it would be more about engaging people.
What do you enjoy about the business?
Being part of happy occasions, and great ROI!
What are you most proud of?
The positive feedback from everyone who comes and loves the location, barn and setting. Producing an idea into reality.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
It will cost more than you think and there will be things you can’t plan for. Be realistic, speak to people within the sector and plan, plan, plan.
The Tipi Company www.thetipicompany.com
Tipples Hire, Shrewsbury www.tipplesbar.co.uk
William Armes (Dandy Dura matting) www.william-armes.co.uk
National Heater Shops www.nationalheatershops.co.uk
Festive Lights www.festive-lights.com
Fire Pits UK www.firepitsuk.co.uk
Shropshire, WV15 5PS