A flexible wedding venue run by a husband and wife team with immense creative flair.
Charged with launching a wedding venue business at a Dorset activity centre in Autumn 2019, stylist, celebrant and artist Carly Perry went all out on styled shoots when Covid put pay to her plans. We talk to her about the importance of building relationships with suppliers and how creativity is at the heart of everything she does.
When did you start your venue business and what is its history?
My husband Luke and I have run a marquee, styling and prop hire business for four years. In Autumn 2019 I was asked to organise and promote weddings at Brenscombe Outdoor Activity Centre, Dorset, and so Roka Bella Rose Weddings at Brenscombe was born – obviously our first year didn’t go quite to plan!
Rather than do nothing in 2020 I gathered lots of local and very talented suppliers together and designed some styled shoots to be able to give couples some visual inspiration. I have been a wedding stylist for four years so it was great fun bringing visions to life at Brenscombe.
Tell us about your location and site
The venue is part of the Rempstone Estate in Dorset, situated on the road between Studland National Trust beach and Corfe Castle, on the edge of the newly designed Purbeck Heaths Nature Reserve which the venue overlooks. It is a disused pig farm, and also has a private woodland. The stone arches above the entrance to the farmhouse are old window arches from Corfe Castle, so there’s a lot of character.
It also has a woodland. Whenever I get the chance I like to go up there at dusk and sit quietly and watch the owls fly around. You often get deer roaming through too.
What facilities for outdoor functions do you offer?
For weddings couples can utilise all of the space so events can be truly unique and personal. We have two barns with a split level courtyard between them. The upper barn, which is Brenscombe’s dining room, our couples and I have lovingly named ‘Disco Barn’. It has a high ceiling, beams, and a mezzanine floor, which has proved to be a great place for the DJ to play from in the evening so that music can be played inside until 12am.
The upper courtyard has been where our couples have had their mobile bar and picnic bench seating, and my husband and I have created a fairy light and festoon light star installation to illuminate the area. The lower courtyard is the perfect size for our Little Hat Tipi which has been used either as a lounge area or for buffet food. Also on the lower courtyard we have a fire pit with benches.
The lower barn has proved popular as an area for children to play and a company called The Wedding Crecherz has been hired in to provide soft play.
We have a big field which has lots of space in the middle for marquees. There’s a wooden archery shelter which has poles in the ground opposite for an outdoor cinema screen to be attached to, perfect for couples staying longer than just the Saturday night and making a holiday of their wedding.
At the top of the field there’s a big campfire area which we put festoon lights around, it’s a great place to chill out and has far reaching views of Poole Harbour.
At the bottom of the field there’s a big two sided barn and another field which contains Brenscombe’s tipi village. These big tipi tents can be booked out by guests to stay in. Our couples have used this space for tents and camper vans too. There’s a separate courtyard with all of the toilet and shower blocks. Alongside camping there is also accommodation for guests in the Farmhouse, Dairy House, and four different barns.
Guests staying longer than just the Saturday night can also book activities with Brenscombe including raft building competitions and tours of Poole Harbour by big canoe.
What services do you offer?
The three barns and our archery shelter are licensed for legal ceremonies. Until April, if couples choose to get married in the field or the courtyard they don’t have to duck under one of the buildings for the legals. We are hoping these changes will stay in place beyond April as it makes outdoor ceremonies easier. Celebrant-led ceremonies are also welcomed. We want couples to have as much choice as we can give them to make their special day a true fit for them.
We are able to offer lots of different recommendations for caterers and bar companies to help make choices easier – we aren’t tied to anyone in particular. This is important for our venue as we want couples to have the freedom to plan their day just the way they want it. Those that choose a festival-style wedding are often after a very relaxed and very personal wedding and we want to help achieve this.
Describe how you researched and sourced your structures
Our big traditional canvas marquee has been named ‘Rustic Rose’. She’s an original vintage marquee made by Yeo Bros Paull in Martock, Somerset. For the last four years I’ve been lovingly restoring her. We’ve replaced all of the main poles, and I’ve stripped all of the outer poles back to bare wood and re-stained them. I’ve turned 50 odd new wooden finials on my lathe by hand and eye, and I’ve replaced all the old blue and orange ropes with hessian ones. My last restoration job for her is to replace the canvas, but this is around the £15k mark so is going to have to wait a bit longer.
Our other temporary structure is our 7m Little Hat Tipi from The Tipi Company. They’re a very friendly and helpful company and you get a very personal service when you buy from them. Next on my purchase list are two of their big tipis. This will also allow us to work with other local companies to be able to provide tipis for larger numbers, and it’s always good fun to work with other local suppliers. We’ve got a great network in Hampshire and Dorset so we are very lucky and are always recommending each other when we are booked up or it’s a service we don’t provide. It feels good to be able to help take care of each other.
Brenscombe, as an outdoor activity centre, offers activities that utilise the surrounding landscape so people are immersed in the environment, from the sea cliffs, chalk down lands, heathland and Poole Harbour. It also specialises in school residential outdoor programmes.
How do you work with your customers to make their events unique?
We listen to them describe their vision, then we offer ways to help make it become a reality and follow their lead helping with logistics and organisation along the way. Planning and designing is always the fun bit, it’s always everything else that can be a bit overwhelming so we are there as a hand to hold throughout the process.
It’s a very versatile venue as you have lots of areas to utilise. Most couples like to make use of the field in the day time, then as the sun goes down and the temperature drops they like to move over to the barns and courtyard where they can dance in one barn, chill out in the other, and drink, chat and toast marshmallows on the fire in the courtyard in between. It keeps everyone in the same place, but allows people to mooch around a bit too, and it works really well.
How do you publicise yourself?
Most of our enquiries come from a Google search which pulls up our website, and from Instagram, as pretty photos sell weddings. Couples like to be able to imagine themselves with a day that looks like what they’re seeing.
How would you describe your style or unique selling point?
Artisan Bohemian. As a creative designer and artist I make a lot of our props and backdrops myself. We build all of our own tables and benches that we hire out too.
What challenges have you faced historically?
This season has been particularly challenging as everyone has planned everything so last minute. Our first child turned two in January, five days after his little brother was born. So this year has had to be a pretty impressive juggling act and couldn’t have been done without the help of our wonderful family.
How has Covid-19 impacted you?
I still needed to launch the venue side of the business as well as continue to grow the styling and hire side, so going all out on styled shoots has really helped do that, and I’ve got to know so many more suppliers personally and build relationships as we all had the gift of time. Styled shoots cost money though so I had to do weekend care work throughout the pandemic to bring in some money. I also undertook a lot of artwork commissions to bring in some funds.
How large is your team – any special people you’d like to mention?
We are a husband and wife team. I run the business and Luke helps on build days as I couldn’t put the marquees up and move all of the tables by myself. He is my chief muscle man. I call him the build or engineering director on most forms.
Within the next year or so we are hoping to be in the position to have a small team working with us.
Have you worked with any industry bodies or consultants?
My main source of support is from fellow wedding suppliers. We all chat a lot and know that we can contact each other for help or advice. Having that industry safety net of friends who understand is so important and keeps us all going.
What are your plans for next season?
Hopefully next year we will have time to plan an open day as this summer was just too crazy busy to be able to.
Describe your average day mid-season
I wouldn’t say it’s an average day with any wedding, it’s more an average week to 10 days. Once all the planning and design work has been done, table runners have been dyed, custom backdrops made, and all suppliers have been liaised with, you then have all of the build prep. Making sure all the hire stock is clean, getting everything out and loaded that’s needed, transporting it, unloading it at the other end, erecting any marquees, putting all of the tables and anything else that needs building up, decorating everything, and adding all the finishing touches.
On the wedding day itself you’ll often see me running around making sure suppliers are OK. Luke and I will be on the walkie talkies directing guests where to park, lighting fires, moving items to the marquee for dining after the ceremony has finished, and the night ends standing at the entrance of Disco Barn making sure that the door remains closed so as not to disturb any neighbours.
The day after is takedown. Wedding season feels like moving house once or twice a week for the duration of the season. Once everything is back to base there are then countless days of washing and cleaning everything. Our first wedding at Brenscombe consisted of four 18 hour days in a row running about constantly, and that’s without taking into account the prep to get it to that point or the cleaning time after. So I am very much looking forward to being in a position where we can employ a small team!
What do you enjoy about the business and why?
Creativity. Creativity feeds your soul, and I need a creative outlet. Being able to get creative with couples and help their dreams and visions become reality is the biggest buzz for me, I love it.
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
We have two halves to our business, the venue side of the business, and the hire and styling side of the business. I’m also a holistic therapist, I work by myself as Roka Relaxation, soon to be Roka Sanctuary, and also as part of the collective that is Temple & The Moon putting together holistic experience events.
Luke and I have a big dream of having our own wedding venue and campsite one day. I’ve already planned every aspect of it out in my head down to the very last detail.
What are you most proud of?
I’m proud that I’ve built this business up from scratch over the last four years, and that for the last two and a half years I’ve done that around taking care of our sons.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
Take part in styled shoots and get to know other suppliers. It’s a chance to show off your brand and who you are without working to a client brief. That way you will attract the clients that make your soul sing and you’ll get to do more of the type of work you love the most.
Maia Sellen Floral Designs www.dorsetflorist.co.uk
Oliver Whillock Visuals www.oliverwhillockvisuals.co.uk
Roka Bella Rose Weddings
Brenscombe Outdoor Centre
Wareham BH20 5JG