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Member Insight

Weddings Sector Close to Collapse by Sarah Haywood

Walpole member Sarah Haywood is a founder and spokesperson for the UK Weddings Taskforce. She and other leading businesses in the luxury weddings sector lobbied for its formation, won the support of the Small Business Minster, Paul Scully MP, and established an industry-led Taskforce. With businesses and over 30 industry associations on-board, it is the official channel of communication between the sector and government. 
24th Feb 2021
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Member Insight Weddings Sector Close to Collapse by Sarah Haywood

The Taskforce reports that the hitherto resilient £14.7bn weddings sector is on the verge of collapse and entirely due to the unique challenges posed by the pandemic restrictions. Despite the submission of a credible, safe and informed plan for the re-starting of weddings as restrictions were eased, the sector was largely ignored in Monday’s roadmap announcements. Although there is a finish line in sight for the resumption of weddings - June 21st at the earliest - the hurdles the forgotten weddings sector has to jump through to get there are insurmountable for many businesses. The infrastructure at the heart of the sector is in jeopardy, threatening 400,000 jobs in 60,000 businesses.

The Taskforce submitted an urgent request for sector specific support over a month ago. When the pandemic struck, it did so at the tail-end of wedding’s low-season.  The sector is now in Q6 of low-season or closed business. And when lockdown is eased from April 12th (at the earliest) weddings will be permitted for 15 guests only, rising to 30 in mid-May.  These numbers are the same as they were last summer and government is aware they are not commercially viable. Meanwhile other indoor events from May 17th are permitted with 1,000 people, or 50% capacity

The effects have been catastrophic for this entire female-driven sector. With no roadmap until now, many venues and businesses have had to keep working to be “wedding ready” in-case restrictions were eased. Others have been working to take care of multiple postponements for the 250,000 weddings that have been delayed since last March.

Over three-quarters of wedding businesses reported losses to the Weddings Taskforce of between 76% - 100%. At the same time, it is conservatively estimated that there are over 500,000 weddings in the post-pandemic pipeline within the first 12 months of normal reopening. But with a cash-flow crisis, no access to many of the support measures wider hospitality has benefited from (such as the 5% VAT rate and business rates relief), and with many staff unable to be furloughed due to the demands of multiple cancellations, postponements, and maintaining venues infrastructure, the sector urgently needs assistance.

Yesterday the Taskforce met with over 30 MPs, led by Neil Parish MP, who are seeking an urgent meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss the lack of parity for the wedding sector. They will also be demanding immediate support from the Chancellor in the form of a sector specific support grant of £880m to bridge it to the end of June.
 


In a normal year the value of weddings outrank other industries such as live sports and the arts without requiring the assistance of grants and the public purse. It is in the enviable position of having deferred rather than lost business. The Weddings Taskforce has been in dialogue with BEIS and believes that with vaccines and rapid testing the sector could hold the key for the safe unlocking of wider events and larger gatherings.

“The Taskforce has been working with Government for many months now,” says Sarah Haywood. “We have proved our sector’s ability to develop safe, sensible, and workable proposals to retain infrastructure, protect jobs, and ensure that couples get married in a safe, phased and responsible reopening. The Government backed our proposal to form an industry- led task force, but the sector has been largely ignored. We understand why the activities of our sector were when curtailed in the eye of the storm. But now, with the successful vaccine roll-out and rapid testing, Monday’s roadmap announcements came as bitter blow. Without support there is an imminent danger of losing a world-leading industry - one that would take a decade or more to rebuild. We fear for the loss of expertise within our teams and within our entire industry.”

For more information, please contact Sarah Haywood on 0203 411 3860 and [email protected].