An organically grown, family run venue offering wedding, events and field sports.
Situated in the heart of Bangor on the southern side of Belfast Lough, Field of Dreams started as an outdoor activity centre and now welcomes weddings and private parties to its purpose built barn structure. Launched by Maurice Brown in 1995, son Greg now oversees operations. We speak to Greg about his dad’s vision and some of his wackier ideas!
When did you start your venue business and what is its history?
The venue as it is today has been here since 2006 but the journey started well before that. Dad is a pro clay pigeon shooter and purchased the land back in 1987. As a successful business man in the construction industry he was well used to travelling for corporate away days of different sorts, often to Scotland where adventure type activities were often laid on at great expense. He looked at the land and thought he could do something just as good but that would cost less for the average person. His vision was to create a ‘mini estate for ordinary people’.
He added five lakes and opened Field of Dreams in 1995 as an activity centre, originally offering shooting and fishing, then archery and air rifles. He was attracting stag do groups and private parties but then our first wedding reception happened. It came about through a friend of my father and was published on a wedding blog in 2011. Since then we have had 58 weddings and now offer ceremonies on site too.
Tell us about your location and site
We have 36 acres of lush countryside with five lakes near Bangor on the southern side of Belfast Lough in Northern Ireland.
Dad called the venue Field of Dreams having had his vision and building what he thought would attract people. ‘Build it and the will come’ – Kevin Costner has a lot to answer for… At one point he wanted to plant maize and create a baseball field – I think that would have been one step too far. Dad is really the brains of the operation and I just decide if I want to go with it or not!
What facilities for outdoor functions do you offer?
Designed as a club house initially in 2004, The Retreat is our main indoor function space and can be laid out and decorated in a wide variety of ways. Dad is in construction and designed the building himself and put it together with a joiner friend. It has a Scandinavian style and is situated on a lakeside with a glazed front that offers stunning views. It can comfortably seat 90 guests but can take up to 110. We can accommodate most table arrangements with round and/or trestle tables which we provide as part of the venue hire fee along with chivari chairs and table linen.
We also have a giant tipi and a traditional canvas marquee available to hire as well as ample car parking. We are also now licensed for ceremonies on site too.
What services do you offer?
Anyone who books the venue gets me on hand to help with all the setting up and breaking down, as well as trouble shooting on the day. The Retreat has an annex which is perfect for caterers to use to prepare food but we don’t get involved in the catering ourselves. There are a few local caterers I am happy to recommend but the majority of events held here lend themselves to a BBQ or hog roast outside by the lake.
Describe how you researched and sourced your structures
We chose to buy our marquees and have a giant tipi and a traditional canvas marquee. I was careful to choose a quality canvas marquee and had one made by Grays Marquees on the Isle of White. It is a beautiful 12x6m structure with ash pegs and a high quality canvas. Everything we do here is about quality and things like this matter. The tipi is 22 feet in diameter and is a great chill out area or somewhere for the kids.
I decided to buy in the structures rather than work with outside suppliers for each event as it just makes financial sense. Also, I don’t have to hang around waiting on other people to come in and out for every event. I can put the tipi up with the help of just one or two other persons, and for the marquee I get in four or five local lads to help.
I am getting quotes for a bandstand style structure for a flat area of grass by the lake which will be a super place for an outdoor ceremony providing great views up the lake. I hope to have this in place by May.
How do you work with your customers to make their event unique?
The venue is pretty much a blank canvas and can be decorated in a variety of styles. Every booking has me on hand to help and it can be arranged for adequate time to prepare the venue in the days before.
How do you publicise yourself?
I don’t do a lot to be honest. I might promote a couple of posts on Facebook – £50 can go quite far that way. It would be easy to over commercialise a place like this and it would lose its appeal. Everything has a life and to prolong ours I want people to ‘find’ us, like a hidden gem, even though they might just live three miles down the road.
I had been using a marketing company and was paying a £240 a month in Google ads but I stopped just before Christmas. Since then we have had 20 good enquiries so I’ll see if I need to revisit that or not.
I haven’t really touched on marketing the venue to business event organisers and I think this is one avenue we could go to town on. Our average wedding has 100 guests who more often than not say “What a spot!” Many of them will think of us when it comes to business away days etc. – I don’t think we would need to do much in the way of direct marketing.
How would you describe your ‘style’ or unique selling point?
I would be laid back in my nature but pride myself on offering a personal service giving people great memories of their time here.
What challenges have you faced?
Planning was a headache in the early stages. Back in 1995 I think Dad paid more in planning fees than a large Tesco store did down the road!
What are your plans for next season?
We are getting planning for luxury safari tents and timber framed cabins for glamping. I think Field of Dreams would work well as a family park – secluded and safe with plenty of activities and just 20 minutes from Belfast.
I also want to re-clad The Retreat and have plans for a boathouse structure for photo opportunities. You can’t have enough wee things like that around the place!
Describe your average day mid-season
Depending on the bookings we have it could be anything from decorating The Retreat for a wedding or taking a group clay pigeon shooting. I like to make sure the lawns are cut nicely – we have 20 acres we treat as lawn so it’s a big job! As is strimming – I started a 25 year grass strimming apprenticeship three years ago…
What do you enjoy about the business and why?
The best thing about this business is meeting different characters and seeing people going away happy having enjoyed their experience. One that really sticks in my head is a city type I recognised from Ninja Warrior on TV. He stopped me as we were heading across the site and pointed to cows in a field – he had never seen one in real life before! I then helped him catch his first fish – he was over the moon.
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
We run charity events which are open to the public and have the plans to add glamping accommodation.
What are you most proud of?
That’s hard to answer – it’s funny but to us we are always looking to the next thing to improve or the next project to get stuck into; we probably don’t think that much of the place! An example is me wanting to re-clad the Retreat – I have been looking at it for 14 years so am a bit sick of it but visitors see things through very different eyes.
We are never not doing anything – although don’t get me wrong, I do sit on my backside sometimes!
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
Be yourself and do your best. One thing I do pride myself on is keeping things personal and being genuine. We often get feedback in reviews and in our visitor’s book that say we ‘went above and beyond’, but I believe this is how everyone should be all the time, especially in an industry like this.
Field of Dreams
55 Upper Gransha Road
Bangor BT19 7QE