A ‘no rules’ farm wedding venue with accommodation for 60 guests.
Jessica Barker went north to train as a show jumper and never went home. Instead she married a farmer and created a destination wedding venue from redundant farm buildings. Sleeping 60 guests in holiday cottages and Anthropod glamping pods, the family business is fully booked until 2024 – no surprise as couple’s get cart blanche with the facilities for a full three days! We talk to Jessica.
When did you start your venue business and what is its history?
Until the age of 21 I show jumped horses professionally from my yard in Essex where I lived with my sister and parents. Having followed my dream, I knew nothing else but the horses, having hardly attended school!
In 2001, I was invited to train with the Barker family in Yorkshire for a few weeks to train with Paul Barker, an extremely successful show jumper. The short story is that I never went home! I gave up the horses, sending them back to Essex, and married the farmer of the family, Phillip. Our wedding was in June 2006 in a marquee on his parents’ farm.
I soon missed the adrenaline of the show jumping and needed something to get my teeth into and put in planning permission to renovate Phillip’s farm buildings. When residential use was turned down we were devastated but we did get permission for four holiday cottages so we set about building them. Looking back, it was the best thing that could have happened.
In October 2015 we went on to renovate the remaining farm buildings and Thief Hall grew from the four cottages to six cottages, six glamping pods and a wedding hall, giving us the opportunity to offer couples the chance to get married on site and sleep up to 60 of their guests.
Tell us about your location and site
We are extremely lucky where we are based, with views of the Yorkshire Dales that can’t be beaten. We are also easily accessible, being one of the most central locations in the UK.
What facilities for outdoor functions do you offer?
We offer accommodation for 60 plus guests and, as we are out of the way, can offer the luxury of a ‘no rules’ ethos with no finish times or restrictions throughout the wedding stay. We offer outdoor ceremonies in front of the spectacular view or can move indoors if the weather isn’t kind.
What services do you offer?
We are 100% there for our couples and their guests throughout, literally 24/7. Nothing is ever too much trouble! As a blank canvas venue, the couple can bring in their own caterers and any suppliers they want for their big day. We have no restrictions at all.
Describe how you researched and sourced your structures
When the planning permission went in, we had to use the same footprints as the buildings already offered so were a little tied to what we could create however it has worked perfectly, which is a bit of luck.
How do you work with your customers to make their event unique?
There are never two weddings the same at Thief Hall, from floor layouts to décor and design. With the no rules ethos, couples really can create anything their imagination allows and we encourage them to do so – from woodland themes to formal or laid back, it really is their choice completely.
How do you publicise yourself?
Our main source of advertising is now through Instagram and TikTok, we post at least 10 stories a day on Instagram and also capture each of our couples’ weddings as a bonus, saving them a story of their day at the top of our Instagram grid. With 20,000 followers on Facebook and over 10,000 on Instagram, it really has been a labour of love over the years, which now seems no different to breathing!
How would you describe your style or unique selling point?
Other than our surroundings, views, no rules vibe and 100% support for our couples, I would say it is that our couples can create the exact wedding they are imagining without restrictions for three days. It is like them owning their own venue, with no one looking over their shoulders. They take the keys from us when they arrive and enjoy a wedding village for two nights for themselves with their 60 guests.
What challenges have you faced historically?
Finding the right team to follow our ethos and be able to step into the couples’ shoes and understand how they feel, while having fun. Staying one step ahead of every eventuality is always our biggest task so that as a family we are not always letting this business take over our lives, which of course it does because we are so passionate about every wedding!
How has Covid-19 impacted you?
We have made the most of Covid and always try and stay positive where we can. We have used the time to extend our bar and lounge area, added decorations including a flower wall and love letters to our offering. We have also diversified to offer the most beautiful micro weddings for 15-30 guests, which can work perfectly when the whole party stay for the three days. It has however been lovely to get going again this summer with the full atmosphere and dancing to live bands again!
How large is your team – any special people you’d like to mention?
My husband Phillip has got to be the hero of this question; he is always behind the scenes fixing the drainage or sorting out the beer kegs, not to mention always having my back if I take on too much or have another crazy idea. His parents, Lynne and David, are also an amazing support to us and this business really wouldn’t thrive like it does without them, from childcare to gardening.
We get so many comments on how amazing the gardens are around the venue and this is down to the hours Lynne puts in week in and week out! We have a super team of wedding coordinators and bar staff who are all as passionate about Thief Hall and what we strive to achieve as we are. We like to think the results of each wedding are enough of a thank you as each couple leaves on cloud nine!
Have you worked with any industry bodies or consultants?
We have learnt everything from our couples and weddings. We listen, watch and evaluate every wedding to make sure we learn something every week, no matter how small. It is the only way to improve and build on the reputation we have carefully created up to today.
What are your plans for next season?
With the craziness Covid has created with the backlog of weddings we are now fully booked until 2024. We are just working through the postponed weddings to make sure every couple has the wedding of their dreams.
Describe your average day mid-season
Oh wow! As every wedding is so different, so is every day which really is the beauty of this business! There is never a dull moment, but here goes…
We wake up to the emails, which we strive to answer as quickly as we can. Next, we check and sort out the hot tubs then get changed and dressed for the wedding (our staff dress as wedding guests to fit in). We check everything for the wedding and take behind the scenes photos for the couple, then meet the registrar and join them in the couple’s pre meetings. Then we ride the wedding fun with the couple and their guests, making sure everything is perfect throughout until the sun comes up.
What do you enjoy about the business and why?
Imagine spending every day planning, preparing and joining couples for the best day of their lives! This is the most rewarding and addictive business that we don’t think of as a business but a love and passion.
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
We have six amazing luxury glamping pods from Anthropods, which have been a great addition adding sleeping spaces for the wedding guests. Each pod has a king size master bed and bunks, sleeping four guests each.
What are you most proud of?
By far our couples and the days they experience with us. Watching their journey from planning to the day itself, followed by the memories and pictures is just so magical you cannot put it into words!
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
To listen to your guests and customers 24/7 and change as they offer advice.
North Yorkshire DL7 9EH