Despite being in a rural Site of Special Scientific Interest, this venue at Lower Grenofen isn’t short of ‘glam’
Following a frustrating planning battle, Nicola Evans and Steven Nash opened the Dartmoor home they married in as a wedding venue. The secluded garden has the river Walkham running through it and features a bespoke marquee for the summer months. In the winter they offer more intimate elopement packages. We speak to Nicola.
When did you start your venue business and what is its history?
My husband Steven and I started this business after we got married here in 2012. The caterer for our wedding suggested it to us on our wedding day and, although that wasn’t the ideal day to start a new business venture, the seed was sown.
Tell us about your location and site
The site (which is also our home) is a 46 acre private estate on Dartmoor, bordering Dartmoor National Park. Most of the land is woodland and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The main house, built in about 1760, was originally the farm house for Grenofen House, a Georgian estate.
The garden has been landscaped over the last 10 years and includes ponds, a mini orchard, a glade walk, beautiful planting, lawns, and a river walk along the river Walkham, which runs through our land and is a major attraction.
Our oak frame open sided barn is licensed by Devon County Council for weddings so couples can get legally married here. We built a glass roof terrace in 2012 with indoor planters, a small tree and water feature which functions as the wet weather reception area for weddings. The flat lawns are the perfect place for our bespoke marquee which is put up each May for our summer wedding season.
What facilities for outdoor functions do you offer?
As well as our bespoke marquee, which seats 120 guests for the wedding breakfast, we have the glass roof terrace, the wedding barn and the honeymoon cottage which is included for two nights for each of our weddings.
What services do you offer?
We offer two types of weddings here. From May to September we offer summer weddings for up to 120 guests, and in the winter (October through to April) we offer elopement weddings for a maximum of eight guests. Big or small, we provide our couples with plenty of help and support in planning their wedding, including a detailed running order for the day and a team of people for all the on-the-day co-ordination.
We do all the set up and clear down for each wedding so couples can spend their time with their loved ones without worrying about all the boring logistical details. We also provide a lot of décor items – we’ve got a stack of gorgeous things which are all included in the price which couples are free to use as they wish. All lighting is included i.e. fairy light canopy, festoon lighting, lanterns, fire pits, tealights etc.
For the elopement weddings we offer a complete package of photography, bouquet and buttonhole, champagne, canapes, three course meal cooked on site, and a tiny wedding cake. Summer wedding couples are free to use their own suppliers except for our caterer, which is the only supplier we insist on. Wedding food is hugely important and allowing only one caterer allows us to keep control of the quality – venues are judged by the food. Even if the caterer is nothing to do with the venue, guests don’t know that!
Describe how you researched and sourced your structures
When we started out we knew nothing about marquees and other garden structures but we learned pretty quickly that Tectonics were the go-to people, so that’s who we used. They designed a bespoke canopy for our glass roofed terrace and then a main marquee measuring 9m x 15m which attaches directly onto our existing terrace structures. We also bought our catering tent from Tectonics. Their modular system has allowed us to expand the marquee space since we first opened. Over the years we’ve commissioned Tectonics for various walkways and a bespoke wet weather awning for the wedding barn. We’ve also purchased a number of pop up marquees from Crown Canopies for arrival drinks shade, wet weather protection and our pop up lounges.
How do you work with your customers to make their event unique?
We’re not a wedding factory, we’re only open for larger weddings from May to September each year and we only do a maximum of two weddings a week, usually it’s just the one. Although we bring our wedding experience and expertise, couples can have their wedding as they wish. There’s no set timetable although we’re happy to advise on what arrangements make for the best weddings. Couples bring in their own flowers, cake, table plan, wedding favours and place names, and of course each photographer makes the venue look different. Each wedding is also different because the people are different – different families, friends, music and atmosphere.
How do you publicise yourself? We’re registered with various online wedding directories: Rock My Wedding, Coco Wedding Venues, Hitched etc. We’re active on social media, primarily Instagram where we post at least once a day. We do some print advertising in national wedding magazines and we’ve always advertised in Wed Magazine which focuses on weddings in Devon. Recently we’ve been experimenting with more local advertising so we’ll see how that goes.
How would you describe your ‘style’ or unique selling point?
Almost everyone who comes here says, ‘wow, we’ve never seen anything like this!’ It’s a perfect setting for an outdoor wedding with no worries about the weather. I describe our style variously as ‘rustic luxe’ or ‘modern rustic’. Yes we’re in a rural location but the venue is modern and has stacks of elegance and style – there’s no need to sacrifice the glam just because you’re in the country! For elopements, one of our main USPs is exclusive use of the entire venue for two nights, even if it’s just the couple getting married.
What challenges have you faced?
Our main challenge was the planning process back in 2013 when we applied for change of use to use our home as a wedding venue. Very long story short – our planning application was recommended for approval by the planning officer but was turned down by the planning committee. We won on appeal and were awarded full costs against the council which is fairly unusual. That delayed the start of the business for 18 months but that all seems a long time ago now.
Other challenges were learning about a completely new industry; hospitality. The other main challenge was the online world which had changed hugely since I was last in business, 10 years earlier. Social media hadn’t existed then and managing your own website was unheard of – now it’s essential. That’s been a steep but happy learning curve as I’ve loved acquiring those new skills and learning from scratch about the wedding industry.
Have you worked with any industry bodies or consultants, and how have they helped you?
I had 20 years experience as a corporate lawyer in London and had run several businesses of my own over the years. I had also acted as a business mentor and adviser for the Princes Youth Business Trust for a number of years and I’d had the same accountant (Daw White Murrall of Birmingham) for over a decade so we didn’t need any professional help with setting up the new business.
I wrote my own business plan and took it to our local HSBC branch to organise a business loan which has now been fully repaid. We did take on a planning consultant (John Milverton) for our appeal who I came across when reading through planning appeal decisions as not only had he won his appeal but he also owned his own wedding venue. I don’t think John does planning consultancy any longer but he always believed we would win our appeal, which was invaluable when it seemed the council were being so intractable.
Actually, the people who’ve been most helpful have been other people in the wedding industry. I’ve found it such a friendly group of people who’ve been so willing to help, even when we’ve been competitors. That’s a lesson I’ve tried to carry forward and I hope we’ve been as helpful with other newcomers to the industry as others were with us.
What are your plans for next season?
Bigger and better! We’re always striving to improve the service we offer and of course there are always new projects in the garden. New for this coming season has been re-laying our drive, which has been a long process (not helped by the winter weather) but which will make a big difference to the first impression people get of the venue. Since we first started in 2013, we’ve cut down 121 leylandii trees, planted a similar number of laurels, put in a new cleft post and rail fence, big beautiful oak gates hand-made by a local company (Tamar Joinery) and finally laid several dozen tons of salvaged cobbles – it’s unrecognisable now!
Describe your average day mid-season
There’s no average wedding day but there is an average set up day, clear down day, admin day etc. Each wedding starts the day before with the couple arriving on site in the afternoon to make themselves at home and do any last minute preparations. The set up team is also in that day to set up chairs and tables in the marquee, make sure all the items on the running order are in place from furniture, décor items and table linen to crockery and glasses. The day of a wedding is always a long one! It starts early with final preparations, goes through to guests arriving on site, co-ordinating the wedding ceremony, drinks reception, wedding breakfast, evening event and food, and ending with guests leaving at 12.30am. Steven and I don’t usually get to bed much before 1.30am on a wedding night and then we’re up early the following day to supervise the clear up! The afternoon after a wedding is also the time I have for viewings for other couples so weekends are packed for sure.
What do you enjoy about the business and why?
Steven and I love sharing our home with our couples and their families and friends. We feel blessed to live in this special place and sharing it enhances living here for us. There have been weddings where there’s been a string quartet playing on the lawn on a summer afternoon and one wedding had a military band playing on the lawns when I thought, ‘this wouldn’t be happening if we didn’t have weddings’ and I’ve been so glad we’ve done this. There are some unexpected benefits too such as the garden always having to be in good order because it’s always on show.
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
We only hire the venue for weddings, we don’t do any other events, indoor or outdoor except for an annual pop up opera. We hold this on a week day evening in June or July as a ticket only event open to the public.
What are you most proud of?
I’m proud of creating a place where couples have one of the most important days of their whole lives. Their friends and family will always remember the venue and we feel humbled by the fact so many people carry our home in their memories. I’m most proud of the fact that so many couples stay in touch with us over the years, let us know how they’re getting on, let us know when they have a new addition to the family and tell us they feel a special connection to this place.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
Be prepared for some seriously hard work! It’s long hours and expectations from your couples are sky high – this is their wedding, nothing less than the very best will do. The wedding industry is also fashion and trend led so you need to have a genuine interest in what’s happening in the industry to keep up with the changes. What’s on trend this year will look dated in a few years so the venue needs to be constantly evolving.
- Tectonics UK www.tectonicsuk.co.uk
- Crown Canopies www.crowncanopies.co.uk
- Richard Haworth www.richardhaworth.co.uk
- Copper bar from Inspired Metal www.inspiredmetal.co.uk
- Essential Supplies www.essentialsupplies.co.uk
- DJC Tavistock www.djc-eventhire.co.uk
- Tectonics UK www.tectonicsuk.co.uk
- Bespoke from Premier Manufacturing www.premier-manufacturing.co.uk
- Wed Magazine www.wedmagazine.co.uk
- Rock My Wedding www.rockmywedding.co.uk
- Coco Wedding Venues www.cocoweddingvenues.co.uk
Devon, PL19 9ES
0844 5000 501