A rustic cum industrial farm venue with a luxury vibe.
On the anniversary of their own wedding at Old Oak Farm, Rebecca and Andy Jones celebrated their 100th event earlier this year. 11 years on from opening, they are on the verge of utterly transforming their business with the addition of a permanent barn venue. We talk to Rebecca.
When did you start your venue business and what is its history?
We started 11 years ago. Our home is my husband Andy’s family farm and it had belonged to his grandfather. We got married here ourselves and saw the potential. I am an interior designer by trade and also had experience of restaurants and working front of house.
We started very small, with just five weddings a year and a hired marquee. The eldest of our three children, Austin (now 12), had just been born and the venue has been my full time occupation ever since. We purchased our own marquee five years ago and run weddings and events through the summer season.
We have grown considerably and now have permission to host 40 events a year. Weddings make up the bulk of this but we also have birthday parties, baby showers and funeral wakes. Andy, a tree surgeon, wound up his business this year to join me full time and we have just celebrated our 100th wedding at the farm – which happened to fall on our wedding anniversary!
Tell us about your location and site
The venue comprises nine acres in the heart of Somerset. It is easily accessed from the M5 and major A roads and also from Taunton and Yeovil Junction stations. We attract a lot of business from both London and Bristol as we are so well connected by road and rail.
The site itself didn’t have any infrastructure in place when we started and we used to hire in trailer toilets and generators. As the business grew we reinvested in services and are now connected to mains electricity and sewerage.
Over the lockdown Andy designed and built what we have been told are Insta-worthy loos! The luxury toilet and shower block has lights on sensors and underfloor heating but the aesthetic is rustic and it looks like a lux version of an old stable block – guests love it!
What facilities for outdoor functions do you offer?
We have a huge 40x20ft pole marquee, the ‘Folly’ ( a beautiful oak frame pavilion for ceremonies), the luxury toilet/shower block, three shepherd huts and a rustic bridal suite. Andy built everything himself with the help of some friends. The huts are great fun – they are full heated and insulated and have their own animal theme; we’ve named them The Cowshed, The Coop and Counting Sheep.
What services do you offer?
We offer venue hire with the marquee and onsite catering for weddings and events. We also help with planning and I love getting involved with styling decisions, offering guidance and helping couples shape their ideas.
Describe how you researched and sourced your structures
Having hired marquees for quite a while we were in the loop so when we decided to invest in our own we headed to the Showman’s Show. We were keen to find a British manufacturer and met Barkers Marquees, purchasing a beautiful 40x20ft Celeste pole marquee.
How do you work with your customers to make their event unique?
We offer lots of planning meetings. Some couples come to us with very clear ideas whereas others look to us and the venue itself for inspiration. The venue is unique and it’s easy for people to put their own stamp on it. I love using my interior design knowledge to help bring visions to life.
How do you publicise yourself?
We have a good online presence through a variety of directory sites and try and post on our social media at least once every other day. I tend to line everything up at the beginning of the week and it auto posts so I don’t need to think about it.
How would you describe your style or unique selling point?
We are rustic cum industrial with a luxury standard of finish. The style speaks for itself and we attract couples with similar taste.
What challenges have you faced historically?
The biggest problem has been contending with noise and trying to keep neighbours happy. We have used several strategies to minimise noise including sound limiters, screens, pointing the band the other way etc. but in a canvas marquee you are always going to be fighting a losing battle.
Drunk guests are also stressful, and trying to keep the noise level down as they leave is a challenge. The easiest thing is setting up a beautiful event and getting the catering right, the hardest is ensuring everyone has a great party but that it doesn’t get too loud!
Obviously the pandemic hit us hard but we used the time to reassess the business and invest time in developing new projects such as the new toilet block.
How large is your team – any special people you’d like to mention?
We have four people employed throughout the year with an extra 10-15 during the summer season.
Special mentions go to our amazing chef Maxine Clare and to my ‘right hand girl’ Vikki Evans. Vikki is actually the sous chef but loves front of house too and has such an incredible knowledge of the venue and how everything gets set up and packs away.
What are your plans for next season?
During our assessment of the business over lockdown we decided to apply for planning permission to develop a permanent barn venue in place of the marquee so we could operate year round. Building work starts in three weeks’ time and we have our first event booked for May!
I am hoping this will open us up to the business events market too and we can get in on the Christmas party action.
Describe your average day mid-season
On a set up day I am on site at about 8.30am having checked and answered emails. I brief our staff on the set-up for the day, which cutlery and crockery we need out and polished, how the napkins are to be folded or trimmed. I am on hand to help but dip in and out of the office throughout the day.
Andy is pretty full time on maintenance of the site and building new structures. Although not a carpenter by trade he is very creative with wood and has designed and built many of the timber structures around the site. His tree surgery equipment also comes in handy – you definitely need a telehandler to suspend things from the top of the marquee as it is very high!
What do you enjoy about the business and why?
I love that each event and each client is absolutely unique. I love getting to know people and feel privileged to be involved at such a special time. The downside is that I am always carrying a lot of pressure. We have 68 couples on our books at the moment and, although some aren’t getting married until 2025, they still want questions answered!
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
We let the guest accommodation via coolstays.com and Airbnb but block it out entirely when we have a wedding or event. It is an optional extra but we haven’t had a wedding where it hasn’t been booked yet!
We run food and drink festivals throughout the year too which are always great fun.
What are you most proud of?
That we built this whole enterprise ourselves from nothing and with no help – all while raising three young children. We have sacrificed a lot on the way, including never having had a summer holiday and having less time with the children. However, the 10 years of hard work and reinvestment has resulted in a very special venue with a great reputation. We have turned a corner now meaning we can take more of a back seat – we have built a fantastic family asset.
Barkers Marquees www.barkersmarquees.co.uk
Old Oak Farm
Somerset TA10 0NY