The Tale of 1 team, 2 weddings and 3 days
It is frustrating and difficult operating within a changing set of rules but there are also opportunities to do things differently and sometimes with amazing results.
At the start of 2020 with a full house of weddings, excited brides and grooms planning their dream days, The Grange Hampshire was ready to hit the ground running. But that all changed in March. The next few months were spent rearranging and then rearranging again the weddings for those disappointed couples as the rules changed – and then changed again. But what happened this week took their events team to a whole other level.
The Prime Minister’s announcement on Tuesday – that weddings are going down to 15 as of Monday 28th September – produced panic amongst 2 couples, whose already small and re-organised weddings were being hosted on the Estate the 3rd October and 24th October respectively. Another change of rules was too much for them, they couldn’t take any more delay.
One wedding was set to be in Abbotstone Farm House and Barn near Alresford, which was in the process of being made available on the Estate as a holiday let, and the other was at The Grange – a grade 2 listed semi-derelict mansion in Northington. Just moments after Boris’ announcement, the Estate’s events team of Julia Mitchell (Events Manager) and food wizard Becka Cooper received desperate phone calls from the 2 couples. Their immediate thoughts were how could they make these weddings work? And there was only one option : they had to pull both celebrations forward to Saturday and run them simultaneously to allow both couples to celebrate with 28 guests. There were a few challenges to overcome : an unfinished farm house, no wedding license, no menu or food, no flower arrangements, no cake, no tableware – but nothing insurmountable they thought. It was a challenge and Julia and Becka grasped it with both hands.
Julia begged the Guardians of The Grange, English Heritage, to allow special dispensation for the wedding to take place, galvanised a team into action to get the house prepared (which has been shut up all season due to Covid and no events taking place) and plumbers and carpenters were chivvied up to get the job done at the farm house. Meanwhile Becka talked to her suppliers and team about delivering 2 weddings in 2 different venues at 3 days notice. In short The Grange team used all their ingenuity and inventive spirit to make it happen and the results were spectacular.
Rebecca Wear – bride number 1 – a teacher from Bishops Waltham in Hampshire, firstly had to persuade her head teacher to give her Friday afternoon off and let her miss the school’s open day on Saturday. After several anxious hours waiting for a response, he agreed. At 12pm on Friday, Rebecca left school in London and dashed to the Grange for a quick meeting with the team, then onto a last minute hair appointment and then the rehearsal in the church. As for the crack team that decorated the Grange, they were her family and friends; her sister made creative name cards and table plans whilst her sister’s fiancée turned his hands to the flowers (he’d never even put flowers in a vase before then but yet he managed to decorate the mantle pieces skillfully). The bridesmaids got to work decorating the house with foraged foliage and hydrangeas from neighbours’ gardens, silver birch trees from a local woodman and a stunning array of empty gin bottles filled with fairy lights to remarkable effect. A friend’s white land rover provided a glamorous limousine, the Dean of Portsmouth came up trumps with a special licence at short notice and the bridegroom’s best friend made the cake (he’d only ever made two cakes before!). This was truly going to be a home grown wedding
Rebecca said “The support of my family and friends has been incredible. I couldn’t believe how kind everyone has been, with the main question being “what can I do to help”. Working as a teacher – and having only just got back to working in the classroom – seeking special permission to leave school early on Friday and to then miss the open day was really tricky. When I did get away it was a whirlwind of appointments and last minute decisions. My feet didn’t touch the ground. The day itself was so special. Very intimate and very personal. I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Being able to enjoy a delicious meal and to talk to all of my guests at the reception, without the pressure of forgetting to speak to someone, made it all the more enjoyable. I cannot thank the Grange team enough for being so supportive and accommodating. They are genuine people who’s professional approach with a personal touch is exactly what you need when organising a wedding.”
Sacha Pryor – bride number 2 – a relocation agent from London, found Abbotstone Farm House & Barn on AirBnB after being let down by another venue. She had originally planned a big wedding in London in May but when restrictions came into play had to reschedule to the beginning of October. Sacha booked Abbotstone Barn for a smaller wedding with 30 guests, with a big house party for 16, but when the rule of six arrived and the guest numbers reduced, that plan had to be rejigged again. Husband-to-be James decorated the barn, with the help of the chief bridesmaid Octavia and kept it as a surprise for Sacha.
Sacha said “We couldn’t believe our luck when we stumbled upon Abbotstone, it’s just the perfect place for a micro wedding. We had everything planned and then everything had to be unravelled and reorganised last week. We had 3 days to change all the arrangements, tell our guests and get them from London to Hampshire. What it has taught me is that weddings don’t have to be lavish affairs with hundreds of guests : I think this will change how people do weddings in the future. The most important thing for James and I was to get married and we were determined to do that. I will look back on my wedding as a very happy and special day, spent with the people who mean most to me, with what mattered in place and a tremendous team spirit that made it happen. I am so grateful”.
Becka Cooper told us “it’s been a huge team effort with everyone pulling their weight to make these two brides have their special days. With only 3 days notice, rallying 4 cooks, 2 front of house and a team of waiters and waitresses – and creating two menus from scratch so that I could showcase seasonal ingredients from Hampshire – was a challenge. But I love a challenge. My local suppliers were incredible : Allens Hire in Eastleigh provided all the tables and tableware for Abbotstone, Alresford’s Jasmine China Hire provided the tableware for The Grange, Harvest Fine Foods in Southampton procured Laverstoke Farm buffalo mozzarella and Isle of Wight tomatoes for the starters along with a multitude of other ingredients, Chalkstream Foods came bearing their outstanding locally reared and smoked trout, Brothers’ Bakehouse got baking the bread and Evans the butchers in Alresford sourced beef for the main course and provided a selection of local cheeses, including Old Winchester, Isle of Wight Blue and Tunworth. I am so proud of my team for the way they all dropped everything, pulled together, and worked unbelievably hard in order to deliver 2 wonderfully different but equally fabulous weddings. Julia and I were thrilled with what we all achieved.
Julia said “I am so lucky to work with a team who are always prepared to go the extra mile. And everyone stepped up, wanted to make this weekend happen and did whatever they could to fulfil that. We love big celebrations at The Grange but there is something deeply personal and intimate about a micro wedding. I have seen a lot of weddings but this weekend’s celebrations were some of my favourites. One of the things that l like most about my job is that no teo weddings are the same and if I am looking for a silver lining from the last year it would be that small weddings are definitely an option for couples. In the end a wedding is about 2 people who want to spend the rest of their lives together and maybe with less stress and cost it can allow for more focus on what really matters.”