‘In sickness and in health’ – so the vow goes. How do you approach wedding planning while we’re in the grip of the global COVID-19 pandemic? We offer a way forward
Unprecedented: there’s a word I’d be quite happy never to hear again. We’ve reached the point where it has all but lost its meaning. And that’s the problem – ‘unprecedented’ doesn’t begin to cover what this catastrophic crisis has become, or the way it has annihilated so much of everyday life. And that’s before we even think about the impact it has had on people who were about to get married. It’s bleak.
Compared to a pandemic, some might say a wedding is just not that important. But I’d argue that it’s more important than ever. Why? Because our priorities have changed. We’ve had a bracing reality check and the results are in: what we weigh, what we earn, how we look? They don’t matter. The important things, it turns out, are safety, health and, you’ve guessed it, love. The Beatles were right all along.
And you’ve found it. You’ve found love. Sit with that fact for a while, before we start wading through the practical advice. It kind of feels miraculous now, doesn’t it? You have a partner in crime, a soulmate to help you through this mess. And that, at the end of the day, is what marriage is really all about.
How will this affect your plans?
Right now, you’re staring into the abyss – months, maybe years, of saving and dreaming and organising, and it’s all crumbling before your eyes. We won’t pretend this is going to be easy. “We started planning the second we got engaged in November 2018,” recalls Mairi Beaver, digital marketer at jewellers Hamilton & Inches, whose wedding was due to take place on 1st May.
“Part of it was accidental – we wanted to ‘play’ at searching for venues. But as soon as we visited Harburn Barn in West Lothian we knew we had to book. Suddenly, we had a date. Things were going at full speed. We’d initially imagined it would be an intimate event, but now we were looking at having around 110 people for a full day of partying.”
Back in March, the virus story was starting to unfold just as quickly. First came social distancing. Next, we were told weddings could go ahead only if the number of guests was radically restricted. Then a few forward-thinking venues closed their doors. And, finally, we had total lockdown.
“People had begun whispering to me, ‘Oh, we hope the wedding goes ahead,’ when I had no doubt it would,” says Mairi. “It wasn’t until I had a call from my mother-in-law that it really hit home. We tried our best to salvage our plans, believing that the ceremony could still go ahead and we could hold the reception later in the year. But as the restrictions got tighter, we had to accept that nothing could be saved and it would be better to start again.”
Now we’re in Phase 3 of Scotland’s coronavirus roadmap, thankfully wedding ceremonies for up to 20 people, including the two of you, your guests and any suppliers involved (excluding your celebrant), are permitted once again, provided everything is socially distanced and suitably sanitised. It’s a huge relief and great news for those who are happy with a more intimate celebration or elopement (and if that’s you, yey!). But, as we’re likely to remain in this phase for a good while longer, and with receptions off the table for the moment, what if your heart still yearns for a traditional, full-blown big day and your date is looming on the horizon? Can, or should, you postpone? Will you lose the life savings you’ve sweated blood to build?
First, reach out to the pros and get a sense of the lay of the land. If you haven’t already heard from your suppliers, particularly your venue, start the conversation now. Communication is vital.
“The amount of money a couple might get back will depend on the particular vendor and their insurance,” notes Toby Heelis, CEO of events company Eventopedia. “Some venues and caterers may allow the wedding to be postponed, whereas others may dictate that the couple lose their deposit. For entertainment, transport and photography, businesses can rule against providing a refund to couples for cancelling if their contract doesn’t call for one.”
We tried our best to salvage at least some of our plans. But as the restrictions got tighter, we had to accept that nothing could be saved
The problem is, we just don’t know what is coming. Look at what happened in England: receptions were next on the list to resume on 1st August, depending on how things played out with the virus, naturally. Then, with just 24 hours to go, the virus had other ideas, causing the UK government to slam on the brakes and keep the restrictions in place, leaving couples who’d taken a chance and made arrangements with their plans in tatters. The situation is evolving. If you prematurely take matters into your own hands, you could be taking a serious financial – and logistical – risk. Unfortunately, this is a waiting game.
“We tried to rearrange the date with each of our suppliers, but it was such a struggle to get a time that suited all of them and it was pushed back further and further,” says Mairi.
“We knew there was no point trying to recreate our original day, so we bit the bullet and decided to do something entirely fresh. I did cry a lot, and sometimes I still do, but having a blank canvas again is sort of exciting.”
Luckily, the wedding industry is very compassionate. It has helped couples overcome many a catastrophe in the past so that special days could go ahead. “Our suppliers have been utterly fantastic,” agrees Mairi.
“I’d say the majority will certainly want to work with you to postpone rather than cancel, and for most couples this will be absolutely fine. But for us, we had such a complicated set-up that it was impossible to work something out. I can only thank them for trying, particularly our caterers, The Pantry, who’ve provided emotional support as well.”
What questions should you ask your suppliers?
If, in the days and months ahead, it becomes increasingly clear that postponement is your only option, make a list of your vendors, with your venue at the top, and pick up the phone. Find out what the process is for securing an alternative date. Can they confirm that your deposit (and/or any other funds paid) is transferable to a new date? Can they go over the terms of your contract with you and reassure you that these will still be met? Are they planning to review any of these terms in light of the current situation? Most of all, be kind: remember that the creative or co-ordinator at the other end of the line is as disappointed and fearful of the future as you.
Managed to move that mountain? Good. Now, to deliver the news to your guests. You’ll need to check in on everyone’s travel and accommodation plans, which they’ll obviously have to amend. If they were planning to stay on site, what can the venue do to put you and your loved ones at ease? Brace yourself too for how friends might react. “They were so sad for us,” reveals Mairi. “That was when our brave faces slipped.”
You could consider how you might make it official – once you have more concrete alternative arrangements – with one of the many cute stationery options we’ve seen popping up in the wake of the outbreak: Papier has produced elegant ‘We’ve Postponed’ and ‘Save Our New Date’ cards, for instance, and Pinterest is, as always, bursting with sweet ideas.
What about wedding insurance?
With insurance, annoyingly, there is no straight answer. Just 30% of couples take out a policy, and even they will not necessarily be completely protected. There’s a lot of small print. “We advise people to carefully assess their contracts with suppliers, as well as their insurance policy,” urges Toby. “If you took out cover before the outbreak in January, you are likely to be protected if your providers cannot deliver.
“Couples are also likely to receive payment if they cancel due to the death or illness of a close relative or wedding participant. Most insurers now have a note on their website discussing what will be covered because of the coronavirus.”
If you do have a policy, your best bet is to get in touch with your insurer as soon as you can to ascertain exactly where you stand. Venue closures or restrictions as a result of government action or contagious disease, for example, may not be covered, as many couples are discovering, and some won’t pay out if you take it upon yourself to postpone or cancel.
“Thankfully, we took out insurance last year with John Lewis and they have recouped some of the costs,” notes Mairi. “It has taught us the value of having insurance in place from the beginning, whether for an event or a holiday. We would have lost thousands if we hadn’t.”
Don’t have a policy? It might still be possible to secure one. A quick visit to CompareWeddingInsurance.org.uk will give you an idea of who is, and crucially who isn’t, dishing out policies. Just read the terms thoroughly and be fastidious about filing all documentation and correspondence. And if you’re newly engaged? Hang off, recommends Mairi: “It will ensure you get an airtight policy. I’m sure there will be plenty of deals from companies desperate for business, but, without reliable insurance, our situation would have been very different.”
One final comment that you may have heard before: so long as you’re married at the end of the day, your wedding has been a success. When it does happen, it might not be exactly how you imagined, but if you and your love are standing together hand in hand, with rings on your fingers, that’s a pretty powerful thing. And we need this power now, more than ever. Stay strong, brides and grooms.