A flexible Essex events venue with huge spaces in converted farm buildings.
Not satisfied with just one events venue, couple Adam and Anna Dixon-Smith took their learnings from their Suffolk site and renovated a family farm in Essex to cater for the London market. Houchins is a celebration of style and elegance combined with a quirky post-modern twist. We talk to team member Fi Pardoe.
When did you start your venue business and what is its history?
It all started with Dove Barn in Suffolk. This wedding venue was opened in 2002 and was where Adam and Anna Dixon-Smith raised their four boys and learnt all about the wedding business. Dove Barn is adjoining their current home, Castlings Hall, and was set up with a 25 per cent EU grant.
Having absorbed all this learning, the couple turned their attention to Houchins Farm in Essex, replicating and improving things for the Essex/London market.
The farm had previously been let out before Adam and Anna transformed it into an events venue in 2014. The Dixon-Smith family have farmed at Houchins since 1952.
Tell us about your location and site
There is very easy access to Houchins, just off the A120 between Coggeshall and Marks Tey. The venue sits in its own 450 acres of arable farmland, so although accessible it is set well with its own surroundings and you feel as though you are in the middle of nowhere.
On site is an historic grade 2* listed farm house which has been beautifully furnished for couples and their guests. The conversion of the farm buildings into a venue has been sympathetically done in a modern, industrial style – there is a huge space for indoor ceremonies and the wedding breakfast with an enormous open fireplace and mezzanine gallery.
What facilities do you offer?
There is an elegant traditional marquee surrounded by the landscaped wedding gardens for outdoor summer ceremonies. It is attached to the wedding loggia where the couple say their vows. The marquee is taken down every winter for maintenance and cleaning.
A woodland area behind the moat is perfect for a more relaxed, rustic unlicensed ceremony. Overlooking the wedding garden is the large paved terrace for reception drinks which leads into the bar area and onto The Granary double story wedding breakfast dining room. Adjoining this room is the Foundry which is used for winter ceremonies and then transforms into a dance barn for the evening’s entertainment.
For corporate events we do business meetings either in the main barn, with theatre style seating for up to 120, or breakfast table meetings for up to 140 with three break out rooms. Boardroom style meetings for up to 12 people take place in the house. We provide all the usual tables, chairs and catering if required from buffet, coffee/teas etc. through to fine dining.
In the winter months we do Christmas parties where the barn is decorated, laid up and a set meal provided; also included are staff, bar and DJ. We have had a few celebrity clients through but couldn’t possibly reveal who!
What services do you offer?
Every couple who gets married at Houchins is guided through the whole planning process by one of our wedding planners. We offer guided tours to couples and their families, a first planning meeting, and our wedding planning system Moposa which helps with invitations and seating plans as well as a host of other useful applications.
A few weeks before the wedding we have the final planning meeting where every last detail is agreed and every minute of the day planned. In addition to all of the above we offer advice on local suppliers and have three fabulous caterers to choose from, offering every style of cuisine
How do you work with your customers to make their event unique?
Each and every couple has a very different vision of their day and one of the most important parts of our job is to listen to what they would like and do our best to make that happen. This is all made possible by a dedicated team who are experienced and passionate about weddings.
How do you publicise yourself?
We have a varied marketing programme which includes open days and wedding fairs, editorial in local wedding magazines, PPC, Facebook advertising, social media marketing and using the many wedding portals that are available.
How would you describe your style or unique selling point?
We like to think of Houchins as ‘heritage made modern’ – a unique, historic, listed farmhouse for couples and their guests to set the scene paired with a modern, beautifully designed venue that caters for every style and taste.
What challenges have you faced historically?
A highly competitive market – there are many excellent venues nearby. And the usual planning issues!
How has Covid-19 impacted you?
Covid-19 has impacted us hugely; we had to move over 80 weddings from 2020. We have focused on being flexible and fair to clients but are having to have tough conversations with nervous brides now because we cannot have another blank year. The fixed costs of the business are too high
How large is your team – any special people you’d like to mention?
The Houchins team is relatively small but each member is an integral part of our success. To be honest we all deserve a mention starting with Wayne the general manager, Taylor and Jay our wonderful wedding planners, Lisa in accounts, Andy who manages the grounds, myself in marketing, and Andrew who runs the farm around us, making it all run smoothly on wedding days.
Tell us about your local suppliers
We use Infotex in Woodbridge for all our website needs and Indigoross in Sudbury for all our printing. Our three caterers do a wonderful job and deserve a mention – Bouquet Garni, Limberry and Splinters – and then there is a whole host of wonderful local suppliers who we rely on from flowers to stationery, music to evening food caterers and many more.
What are your plans for next season?
We are really hoping that we can get back to holding normal sized weddings as soon as possible, and once that starts we would just like to accommodate all of our wonderful couples and give them the best day possible.
Describe your average day mid-season
The great thing about being a venue is that every day is different. We are either doing show rounds, working on the venue or house, in the office talking to couples or conducting a wedding, which is obviously the best day of all.
What do you enjoy about the business and why?
People, ideas, different ways of doing the same thing, and making couples happy.
As mentioned above we love the fact that every day is different and every couple has their own unique vision of their wedding day. No two weddings are the same and we work with an array of professionals who are so good at what they do. The best part of it all though is when we hear back from our couples about how much they enjoyed their day, how much fun their guests had and how they would like to do it all again!
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
At our sister venue Dove Barn we hold occasional art exhibitions or dining clubs and talks, often to raise money for charity.
We would definitely consider glamping and are looking at the opportunities.
What are you most proud of?
Two things: the team and how they have managed to maintain their enthusiasm and passion for weddings during lockdown, and turning a corrugated 1950s style tractor shed into an awarding-winning funky, post-modern, unique venue.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
You do really need to enjoy working with people and love weddings and events. It’s not just a job but more of a passion and a way of life.
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Terra Therma www.terratherma.co.uk
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