Dating back to 1560, this country mansion sits in a 3,000 acre estate and boasts a permanent marquee, ‘organic amphitheatre’ and walled rose garden.
A family home and a family business, Glemham Hall encourages clients to think of the space as their own, from the Summerhouse in the scented walled garden to the grand sweeping staircase of the Great Hall. With some quick decision making, Donna Stockley and her small team is looking after customers through Covid-19 and is proud to be part of the #extramilevenue campaign. We talk to Donna.
When did you start your venue business and what is its history?
Glemham Hall is an Elizabethan country mansion set in 300 acres of parkland which forms part of a 3,000 acre estate. It was built around 1560 and has always been a family home, first to the de Glemham family and later in 1708-1709 to Dudley North (whose father in law was Elihu Yale, founder of the famous American university). It remained in the North family for some 200 years and was later purchased in 1923 and became the home of Captain John Murray Cobbold and his wife Lady Blanche, daughter of the 9th Duke of Devonshire, and still remains with the Cobbold family today.
The events business was started in 2003, primarily as a venue for weddings and parties. We now manage a rich and varied calendar of events, with house tours and lunches, garden theatre, cycling events, art exhibitions, antique fairs and a major folk festival which takes place in the park every August, as well as weddings and parties.
Tell us about your location and site
We’re in a great location, a stone’s throw from the Suffolk heritage coastal towns of Aldeburgh and Southwold. We’re literally just off the main carriageway of the A12 and not only very easy to find but the logistics are great for moving large amounts of traffic on and off site relatively easily.
Once you pull down the drive it feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere! The parkland is a beautiful site for an outdoor event featuring some wonderful old oak trees, some of which have historical importance being 600 years old. There is a lovely natural undulation to the park, which creates an organic amphitheatre, perfect for siting a main stage!
We experience the same challenges as any other outdoor site when it comes to dealing with the weather, though I’d say our biggest challenge is working within the restrictions of the Natural England Higher Level Scheme, which the parkland is part of.
What facilities for outdoor functions do you offer?
For wedding receptions, we have a marquee which is up all year round. It can host receptions for up to 170 guests and is cleverly positioned in the garden behind an old yew hedge, so it’s mostly hidden from view.
My favourite spot in the garden is our Summerhouse, which sits in the corner of the walled rose garden. It’s here that we host outdoor ceremonies where couples can exchange their vows surrounded by roses and lavender – the scent is wonderful!
What services do you offer?
For weddings and any private events such as a birthday or anniversary, we’ll be there on the day to fully co-ordinate, as well as offering full support in the lead up to the event. We’ll liaise with caterers and suppliers directly to ensure the day runs smoothly. For smaller weddings of up to 30, which take place solely in the Hall, we provide in-house catering, and in the marquee we provide a full bar service, which is managed in-house.
This summer sees the newly restored Willow Cottage become available for accommodation. It’s a very welcome addition and will now provide a perfect base for a ‘wedding party HQ’. We also offer it for short stays and holidays and our first customers will be arriving this month!
Describe how you researched and sourced your structures
Our marquee structure was purchased second-hand from Ipswich Town Football Club (the Cobbold family have a long and close association as founders of the club). We also work closely with a local marquee supplier, who helps us with maintenance and replacement covers.
How do you work with your customers to make their event unique?
When I show a client around our venue, I’ll show them everything, all the rooms, the gardens and the marquee but it’s entirely up to them to decide how they use the venue and what will happen where! I think having this flexibility allows them to push the boundaries a little and to realise that they can create something quite unique. I find that couples are always looking for ways to make their wedding stand out so we’ll very often suggest ideas or recommend the perfect supplier for the style or experience they’re trying to achieve.
How do you publicise yourself?
We’re very active on social media and I make it a priority to continually learn more about marketing and PR. There are some brilliant free Facebook groups that are great for connecting with other industry professionals and soaking up lots of knowledge.
We advertise with a few wedding directories, but most of our enquiries come via our website, so investing in good SEO is one of our main strategies.
How would you describe your style or unique selling point?
Glemham is quite unique, it has a very honest and genuine charm about it. The Great Hall is quite impressive with its high ceilings and original wooden columns, yet it feels warm and homely – which it is! I’m proud to say it’s still a family home, and I want our clients to feel like it’s their home for the day too. Our customers absolutely love our gardens and outdoor spaces and I think this is where they fall in love with the idea of holding their wedding or event at Glemham.
Our USP has to be our gorgeous grand staircase in the Great Hall. This is where couples, particularly brides, have their ‘this is our venue’ moment. It leads from our wedding suite, where the bride gets ready, straight into the ceremony room, so they can enjoy the perfect ‘Cinderella’ entrance down the aisle. It’s truly stunning.
What challenges have you faced historically?
Grade 1 listed buildings such as these continually present us with challenges. There is a never-ending programme of maintenance which is usually always costly. Thankfully, the building itself is in very good condition though more difficult to keep warm in winter!
How has Covid-19 impacted you?
Yes, it’s been an extremely tough one to navigate. What became immediately difficult was having to make some big decisions really quickly in a completely unprecedented situation. For couples who had their wedding planned this year, we offered for them to postpone to a new date and most have opted for 2021. For the larger scale events, these have either cancelled or postponed to next year.
As soon as we went into lockdown, we quickly adapted to hosting virtual show-rounds via Zoom. These proved invaluable in keeping bookings and deposits coming in. We increased what we were doing on social media, both to generate new interest but also to help our existing clients maintain their excitement for their own wedding.
With the predicted boom for staycations this summer, our priority has focused on promoting the cottage as holiday accommodation.
Now that restrictions are easing, we’re seeing a surge of enquiries for small ceremonies, elopements and intimate weddings and I think the trend will shift towards a smaller wedding in our more immediate future. Covid has realigned our priorities of what’s important and the overriding result of that is friends and family. It’s people, our nearest and dearest, that are first and foremost in our minds.
We’re very proud to be part of the #extramilevenue campaign, which is a national positivity campaign highlighting all the venues that have gone the extra mile for couples during Covid. So many venues have gone above and beyond to support couples and this campaign will give them the recognition they deserve.
How large is your team – any special people you’d like to mention?
Our team is actually quite small. Tom Hope-Cobbold is a partner of the estate and looks after the tenanted properties we have, as well as general maintenance of the hall. His wife, Miki, is in charge of all our photography and filming clients.
In the events office, there are myself and Emma, and then we have three gardeners, Heidi, Joe and Roger and our housekeeper Angela.
Have you worked with any industry bodies or consultants?
I discovered Olivia from Host Venue Consultancy last year where we undertook one of her brilliant courses for getting the most out of the wedding engagement season. Since that, we became members of The Wedding Venue Members Club, which is a collective of venue owners, managers and co-ordinators and I have found this community to be invaluable, especially during Covid-19. Being a venue manager/owner can be a lonely existence so it’s been really rewarding to be a part of this and to gain so much friendly support.
We are also members of the ABWB (Association of British Wedding Businesses), a new organisation who are very active in working with ministers to prepare a roadmap for weddings to be re-introduced as part of the easing of restrictions.
What are your plans for next season?
To get through it! With most events from this year postponed into next, combined with new bookings, it’s going to be a busy year for us. I’m working on implementing some new systems so that our workflow is more streamlined. We’ll be moving over to having all our contracts signed electronically; small changes like these will make things so much easier. With the financial disruption that Covid has brought to our business next year will be very much a time for stabilising.
Describe your average day mid-season
With this job there really isn’t an average day. However, my day usually starts with some time in the office replying to emails. I’ll chat with Emma to go through the tasks she’ll be completing that day. We have a big whiteboard in the office which has a seven day forecast of what’s going on, which is great to see at a quick glance. With next year being so busy, and with the addition of the cottage accommodation, I may need another board!
We have a weekly staff meeting where we look ahead to the next 14 days and where our team can come together to chat through the tasks in hand. On a typical day, we might be offering a showround to a couple, setting up furniture for an event, liaising with suppliers, making orders for the bar etc.
What do you enjoy about the business and why?
For me it’s the diversity of events that happen here and the fact that no two are the same. Although most weddings follow a similar format, couples that choose Glemham know they have the freedom to create something spectacular, with our beautiful setting as the backdrop.
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
The parkland is where we host large-scale events and these are all produced by third party organisers. As I mentioned, our largest event is the FolkEast festival in August, which is a three day music event with camping. In addition, we host a classic car festival, cycling events and antique fairs. There have been times where we’ve had an event going on in the marquee as well as an event on the parkland. The two are in very separate areas, so logistically it works fine, but we prefer to focus on one at a time!
What are you most proud of?
If I had to pick one thing, I think it would be attracting more larger-scale public events to the parkland and building good, loyal relationships with the organisers.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
There is so much advice I could give, but I think, for example, if you’re starting out as a new wedding venue, research, research, research and then talk to people who know what the modern wedding couple are looking for in a venue. Connect with established wedding planners in your area and invite them to have a look around. They’ll be able to offer guidance and suggest some USPs for your venue, which you may not have even thought of. You may even consider working in collaboration with a planner or venue consultant to get your venue up and running.
Once you’ve established what you can offer, you’ll then be able to work out who your ideal client will be and how you’ll market your venue to them. Good wedding suppliers (florists, cake makers, photographers) will become your cheerleaders. Find out who’s the best in their field in your area and make yourself known to them. Suppliers love a new venue and establishing good relationships with them will prove rewarding later on.
Once you’ve made connections, you’ll be able to call on these suppliers for promotional opportunities such as styled shoots and open days. A good strategy with great imagery for your website and social media will be key to your launch as a venue!
One Curious Dream www.onecuriousdream.com
Midas UK www.midas-uk.co.uk
Anglia Coastal Marquees www.angliacoastalmarquees.co.uk
Host Venue Consultancy www.hostvenueconsultancy.co.uk
Suffolk IP13 0BT