An eclectic mix of spaces creates an intriguing venue centered around a ‘warehouse’ with a 10m long bar
We talk to sisters Rachel Hughes-Green and Sarah Hughes-Wade about their ‘definitely not a barn’ venue that features a double decker bus named Lelia, a woven hazel bridal suite dome and enough magic and mystery to create unforgettable events for guests
When did you start your venue business and what is its history?
The Firs is a seven acre small holding in the heart of Norfolk. It has been a family home for nearly 20 years. We have managed our home-grown glamping business for several years and are now fully licensed for weddings and civil ceremonies onsite.
Tell us about your location and site
We are nestled between two lovely market towns, Dereham and Swaffham, 40 minutes from the beautiful North Norfolk coast and both half an hour from Kings Lynn and the fab city of Norwich.
Our venue is truly unique with, we believe, the only warehouse venue in Norfolk – it is not a barn! Inside the warehouse you will find a 10 metre long cocktail bar, hand made out of pallets with a black high gloss finish, polished concrete floor and industrial metal walls; the festoon lights which hang from the ceiling reflect very nicely! Our outside ceremony room has beautiful lighting too with hundreds of tiny fairy lights hanging from the rustic timber frame building out in the camping meadow, which we often style with beautiful boho candlesticks, macramé, dreamcatchers, vases of flowers and grasses.
Our retro 1970s double decker bus is a great hit as a chill out area or karaoke station, and our very cute mini glen caravan works fantastically well as a DIY photo booth. The only challenge really is for clients to decide which space they want to use for their ceremony or event! All the rustic, vintage tables and benches come with the site.
What facilities for outdoor functions do you offer?
There is our outside ceremony room with bench seating for 120 guests, our lean-to space next to the warehouse which is an undercover outside space for a little bit of extra shelter, and our incredible warehouse space including the cocktail bar and vintage American pool table with wheel barrow lighting and lounge seating plus rustic table and chairs for 120 guests. Oh, and Lelia the bus.
The accommodation on site is our stunning eco bridal suite The Wren’s Nest – a handmade wooden dome created by weaving copiced hazel branches together, complete with mezzanine floor, real beds, wood-burning stove, dressing area and kitchen area. We also have 6 x 5 metre, fully furnished bell tents for guests.
What services do you offer?
As event planners and creative stylists, we can help with all venue elements – production scheduling, set-up assistance, on-the-day overseeing and running, styling, and prop-lending.
Describe how you researched and sourced your structures
Matt, Sarah’s husband and in house carpenter and builder, takes the lead in this department and carefully looks into being as environmentally friendly as possible, making our structures with care and ending up with beautiful results.
How do you work with your customers to make their event unique?
Once the bridal couple has visited the venue and decided this is the perfect place, they then have two additional wedding meetings at camp to plan the day to perfection. The couple and their guests, especially the overnight guests, can contact us via email to ask lots of questions and get as much help as they feel they need.
How do you publicise yourself?
Lots of social media as well as a limited amount of more traditional magazine advertising, depending on our budget!
How would you describe your ‘style’ or unique selling point?
Our style is a gorgeous mix of classy Scandi interior styling with a fun, creative festival feel. We can create beautiful boho weddings, festival weddings, or more minimal parties; we strongly believe that each wedding must be as individual as possible and reflect exactly what each couple wants for their perfect day. We like to be really flexible, and hope the creative visions are as unique as our venue with freedom given to the bride and groom to have the exact day they dream of. Each wedding has to encapsulate the uniqueness of the couple’s love.
What challenges have you faced?
As the location is rural this can be considered a challenge but we always try to turn the challenges into a positive thing and work with people who find getting away from the madding crowd just the thing they need! Communication and getting our venue out there in to the wedding industry is also a challenge but we work with the fab team of ladies who run the Most Curious Wedding Fair.
Have you worked with any industry bodies or consultants?
It is great to work with other people in the industry and we hope to continue to do this lots more. We work a lot with wedding planners and suppliers, supporting each other at shows and on social media. We also are big supporters of any photographers or stylist wishing to use our location for a photoshoot – it’s a great way to collaborate and share our creative visions and work. We work with wedding magazines and luckily became the venue to host The Most Curious Wedding Fair in 2018 after exhibiting at their Norfolk and London shows for years. Wedding shows have been great!
What are your plans for next season?
We will continue to grow the wedding side of things now that we are fully licensed. We’ve made the transition to phase out individual camping, which was quite hard to do, but we know the site works best, being fairly small, when all the campers know each other. We continually update the site to improve the venue in terms of planting, design, trends and keeping the facilities in great shape. We will also explore adding accommodation, with a drive to increasing bookings. Naturally we will want to be part of local wedding shows and events.
We will also increase business in our corporate hires and away days, and introduce wellbeing retreats, incorporating the Yoga Yurt here on site. We’ll bring hen and stag packages too. All with a big focus on green and mindful events. It’s very common to see a lot of waste and plastic used due to convenience and the supposed disposable nature of camping so we wish to continue challenging this and to lead a way of change; this is in harmony with our slow-living ethos.
Describe your average day mid-season
This depends on whether it’s a weekday, a set up day or a wedding day!
For a wedding that takes place over a weekend (our most common booking) we spend Thursday on our own prep and getting the site ready. We plan and have meetings with the team to make sure everything is in place and everyone is aware of the weekend’s schedule – we may take deliveries too that begin arriving for the wedding. Friday is also a set-up day when the couple arrives and the styling happens – table dressing, arbour building, setting out benches etc.
We will also have a last-minute run through meeting with the couple to make sure everything runs smoothly. Music set-up and practice probably happens too, it’s a full rehearsal and dressing day really as well as welcoming guests who arrive to help or camp.
The wedding day starts with the team in full show mode, bar prep, welcome drinks, PA checks, final styling, florals, laces out on benches, fire set, food prep… We greet guests, serve drinks, we’ll meet the registrars and guide people to the ceremony when the time is right, we’ll set the PA and make sure everything is running smoothly. We then work with the caterers on the food being served, cleared, dance floors created, table change, charging glasses for speeches, and rock the bar with an awesome team!
This typical set-up and show day is very similar for a corporate hire, but instead of a marriage happening, we’ll assist with presentations, work-stations, Wi-Fi, deliveries and team-building activities!
The departure day is always the same – a catch up with guests, a lot of coffees and a full clear up to return the site to how it was with a big focus on recycling and waste management.
Why do you enjoy the business?
It’s a wonderful extension of our family home, so it’s flexible, creative work with loved ones. We can get creative, experiment and be outdoors in beautiful rural Norfolk a lot! We absolutely love seeing how guests will create their dream event; the blank canvas and nature of our venue means we get some pretty stunning celebrations that are so creative… and weddings are so full of love and joy, who doesn’t love a wedding!
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
We’ve hosted ‘slow food’ festivals, well-being events, Christmas events and family friendly events like ‘baby raves’ and sling group meetings. These festivals are very local community events which are great to introduce the venue to local families and to meet suppliers. We work together on events based on what the event organiser is looking for, be it more dry hire or full collaboration.
What are you most proud of?
Creating a venue that we’ve been told has a very special family, loving feel and that people really connect with. We’ve done so much of the work ourselves without bank loans or investment, which feels pretty major!
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
Go with your ideas, research as much as possible, and build up a wonderful network of local suppliers – those relationships will be the foundations for successful business all round. Do as many trade supporting events as possible and be open. Be ready for the 24/7 juggle of quiet times, hard work and full blown show days!
Flint Insurance www.flintinsurance.co.uk
The Fire Pit Camp
Norfolk NR19 2LT