Something Borrowed, Something Roo: The Hunt for the Perfect Venue

My lovely intern Roo (oh I do love her so) had, to say the least, quite the drama with the search for the perfect wedding venue. So she’s here today to share her woes and in turn reassure those of you that might be going through the same hell, that it’s all going to be fine and that you will come out on the other side!  I personally found the venue hunt the most stressful part of my wedding planning. Why are wedding venues such a pain in the…ahem.

Over to you lady…

♥  ♥  ♥

Like so many modern-day women, I often find that the most apt precursor to the soundest advice can only come from an episode of Friends. In this instance, I’ll refer to “The One With Ross’s Wedding, pt. I”. Open your DVD inserts to chapter 4, and we’ll begin.

So, Emily (Mrs Ross Gellar-to-be) has her heart set on getting married in the same church that her parents did, in a nod to family tradition – which is all well and good until they get there and find that it’s in the process of being knocked down. Ross suggests putting off the wedding until they can schedule a different venue; easy peasy, except for the fact that Monica gently informs him that while he’s only been planning this wedding for a month, Emily has probably been planning it since she was five years-old – “ever since the first time she took a pillowcase and hung it off the back of her head”. (Don’t panic, by the way. Ross jumps a hackney down to Homebase to buy their entire range of fairy lights, and all is saved.)

You could suppose that this impossible situation is a fantastic work of fiction, however, it saddens me to inform you that the real spectrum of wedding venues is just as fraught with disaster. You needn’t expect demolition, but you ought to expect a fair amount of difficulty and a shedload of compromise. In my experience, I thought that the search for the perfect venue was going to be easy; I was wrong.

Lamb and I don’t practise any religion to speak of (unless McDonald’s milkshakes are considered divine in other parishes besides ours). Therefore, getting married in a holy place could never really be an option for us as a couple, since it would feel wrong to exchange vows in the eyes of someone/something that we’re not entirely sure we believe in the complete existence of. We thought that this would considerably cut out the clutter that we weren’t interested in, and fling open doors of opportunity elsewhere. Again, we were wrong.

Not unusually, we’d had that initial gush of: hey honey, we like to frolic amongst flora and fauna, right? – So why not get married outside? followed by a bit of research, then: oh wait, that’s not even legal in England. The law in England and Wales states that a wedding venue “must have a roof, be moored to its foundations, and licensed by the local registrar” (a summary of our laws courtesy of The Any Campaign, who are petitioning for the right to get married any time, any place. Please, please take two minutes to sign their petition and make the dreams of an outdoorsy future bride & groom come true).

We didn’t have anything set in stone, but I’d seen the wonderful Hannah & Landon’s beach-ceremony-followed-by-boat-reception (also featured on Rock n Roll Bride here) when they first got hitched in 2006, and it always stuck in my mind. After the initial disappointment in the restrictions of our country, we took a moment to consider our options, and our first real dream was realised. We figured out that our dream wedding would be one ginormous celebration – no fannying around a dusty registry office only to arse about with traveling to a reception destination later; no need for taxis or waiting around; just one big hoedown. Our venue had to offer us the legalities of a civil marriage ceremony, plus grub and dancing to boot. With that idea written in permanent marker on the metaphorical planning whiteboard, we got our teeth into it. So where would we begin looking?

This is my unhappy-with-venue-hunting face

It had been our dream to get married in Brighton; we fell in love here, we’ve made all our memories together here, and we’re quite certain that we want to settle here with our future buns in the oven. It all seemed so simple enough, but naturally it wasn’t. For starters, we had no idea what we were looking for. Sure, we knew what we wanted, but we didn’t know how to tell Google what we wanted. I’m not much of a search engine maestro, which became extremely telling as I found myself going around in circles until I’d ended up looking at places I wasn’t even interested in and thinking, will that just have to “do”?

I took my search to Twitter, throwing in a few cheeky hashtags to get the biters biting, and soon enough I was kindly directed towards a couple of promising links. To name my shortlisted favourites, I was shown an eco house (too small), Britain’s longest running aquarium (too fishy), and the Duke of York’s Picturehouse (too “themed”). The last is a particularly interesting tale, since it only obtained its wedding license after a couple so wanted to get married there that they bought the license for the building. At first, the idea of getting married in such a beautiful place so rich with heritage was really something else. Despite everything that it’s got going for it (I’m looking at you, can-can legs) it just didn’t feel very “us”, you know? And it has to. Above all else, it has to feel very you; both of you.

Photography Credit: Janet Cameron

 

We were on the right track, at last – somewhere totally inspiring, a bit weird, and most important of all, in our local vicinity (I’m 85% sure that you can actually see our flat in this picture). So, with our noses back to the grindstone, we had our sights set firmly on what we wanted, and all was going well and positive and lovely and… Then we came screeching to a disappointing halt.

My parents are staunch traditionalists – not in that stuffy, hoity-toity way, but there are certain traditions that they’d like us to uphold, and one of those is that I get married in my hometown. This made us both sad for a number of reasons, the number one being that Lamb and I have no recollection of each other in Liverpool. I didn’t go pie-eyed for his plaid shirts, nor did he go bonkers for my brown (ish) eyes until we’d both migrated south. I’m trying to put it in the least insulting terms as possible, but since we’re all friends here I may as well just say it: as a couple, Liverpool means nothing to us. Our argument for going ahead with the wedding in Brighton was that the day was about us, and a celebration of our new life together. My folks didn’t outright disagree with us, but they did voice that they were of the opinion that a wedding is more about family. After a lot (and I mean bucket-loads) of tears, a lot of frustrating conversations, and a couple of sleepless nights, we worked out a middle grounding of sorts. We agreed that if we found the perfect venue in Liverpool, then we would get married in Liverpool. Furthermore, since going against our original wishes was naturally a big deal for us, I specified that if we agreed to get married in Liverpool, then we would want no holds barred on anything else.

By that, I don’t mean “oh daddy, if we’re getting married in this wretched place, I simply must have one hundred of the finest, softest white doves to see me down the aisle!” What I actually mean is that we wanted the creative freedom to do what we wanted without anyone saying something to the tune of, “you’re having mojitos for your welcome drinks!?” or “oh my god, you want LEOPARD PRINT bridal shoes?” (Which I do, by the way, but more about that in a later post I’m sure). We were given a nod for the go-ahead, yet we were being real Negative Nancys about it. We were so stubborn about Liverpool not being right for us that I think we were almost 100% definite that we wouldn’t find anywhere perfect. Once more, we were wrong.

Contemporary Urban Centre

Have you ever listened to a song, or watched a film, or tried on the perfect dress and thought to yourself, this must have been made for me!? When I chanced upon the Contemporary Urban Centre, that’s exactly what I thought.  Wooden beams, stained glass windows, Chesterfield sofas, 1950s Haunted House-esque wallpaper, a wrought-iron spiral staircase… I was pretty much ready to move in. We sent off an enquiry form, and after a few days of pacing and re-sending our details we finally arranged to pop back up to Liverpool and have a tentative look around…

Contemporary Urban Centre

So loves, if you’re in the middle of visiting different venues right now, I will firstly pass on my commiserations because I am SO happy to be out of the HELL HOLE of venue hunting. Nevertheless, my main tip would definitely be to brush up on your list-making skills. Buy yourself a sturdy notebook and jot down the questions that you absolutely need the answers to before you can make any kind of decision on where you’re getting married. Try and cover all the bases that are important to you because you never know – you could leave having fallen in love with what you think is your dream venue, then when it comes to signing, find out that you can’t actually have a live band after all. But then, who provides your music might not be important to you – being able to offer a BYOB policy might. Everyone’s criteria are different – as different as everyone’s budgets – so you and your betrothed need to sit down and plan out what matters to you. The list that Lamb and I made was quite concise, but it covered all the bases we needed: Do we have to use the venue’s recommended caterers? If so, can we plan a bespoke menu? Will we be able to visit the venue one day prior to our wedding to set up all our decorations? Are we allowed confetti? What time can we rent the room until? Is there plenty of parking? Are table linens and chairs included in the price? These may seem like odd questions, but they helped us to sift through our priorities and make compromises where we had to. I know that asking if chairs are included might seem a bit bonkers, but we actually viewed a venue in Sussex that charged extra to provide chairs. Unless you’re planning on lolling around on beanbags (which, now that I think of it would be cool) then you should raise these lines of enquiry. If you get any funny looks from fuddy-duddy wedding coordinators, just tell them a really wise Rock n Roll Bride-to-be told you so.

Contemporary Urban Centre

Secondly, if it doesn’t feel right, it’s not right. So what if it has a floral archway that was handcrafted by blind elves and is inhabited by a rare species of butterfly? If you suffer with chronic hay fever, and your fiancé is terrified of butterflies – like mine is – then it really isn’t worth the sacrifice.

Thirdly, and finally, I’ve said it a fair bit but I can’t stress it enough: COMPROMISE. No one likes doing it, but we’re all big girls and boys now and if you can’t have what you think you want, you should bite the bullet and with a bit of luck, you could end up with something that you actually find you want more anyway. Luckily, as far as compromises go, we didn’t have to make many – just one – which felt utterly devastating at the time, but actually worked out a whole lot better for us in the end. At the end of the day, we’re happy, we’re excited, and larking about in all our finery after saying our vows is becoming less of a dream and more of a solid actuality. And you know something? No matter how much I bitch and complain about the perils of venue hunting, I’ll admit that it’s worth it just to remember and appreciate how it feels to be excited about getting married.

Good luck, Godspeed, and until next time, little critters…

Oh wait… where are my manners? I completely forgot that I should probably mention this – WE TOTALLY BOOKED THE CUC.

F(iretru)ck yeah!

Contemporary Urban Centre

P.S. I though I’d share a list of non-sucky venues that come totally recommended by me in Brighton, London & Liverpool (in no particular order):

P.P.S. Not all of these venues have licenses to hold wedding ceremonies; some are just beautiful places to party:

The Groucho Club, Soho

Adam Street Private Members Club, The Strand

Shoreditch Town Hall, Shoreditch

Battersea Arts Centre, Battersea

Earthship Brighton, Brighton

Duke of York’s Picturehouse, Brighton

Blackstock Barn, Hellingly

Broyle Place, Ringmer

Contemporary Urban Centre, Liverpool

The Sussex Barn, Hellingly

Brighton College, Brighton

Sea Life Centre, Brighton

Barbican Centre, London

29 comments

  1. Phew! So glad that story had a happy ending. Awesome venue choice! I can 100% relate to your venue searching woes, I think I looked at every potential wedding venue in Scotland through many an obscure search on google, and totally wasn’t prepared for how set in her ways my mum would be either about the whole thing, totally unlike her. It all paid off in the end though and we were very happy with our choice of venue (monachyle mhor hotel) as I’m sure you will be on your big day. When you go through such a troublesome time choosing one you totally know when you’ve hit the nail on the head, well done!

  2. Suze

    Oh, Roo, I so understand your difficulty in finding the perfect wedding venue in Brighton – we’re getting married in 5 weeks (eeep!) and we were DETERMINED to get married in Brighton for the same reasons as you were. We ended up hiring Fabrica (art gallery on Ship St in a deconsecrated church), but if we hadn’t fallen in love with that – which we did, it is beautiful – I don’t know what we would have done. And its best not to get me started on what you do in Brighton if you want to invite more than 50 people to your ceremony…

    Am so glad that you found such a beautiful venue though – it looks amazing!

    Suze

  3. RachyLou

    High five for leopard print wedding shoes Roo! I bought mine a couple of weeks ago and cannot wait to rock them down the aisle!
    Your venue looks so ‘you’, I’m really happy you found what you’re looking for. At least with you being married in Liverpool means that Brighton can always be yours and Lamb’s special place that no-one can ruin/interfere with. Brighton is my most favourite place in the world so completely understand your love for it xo

  4. Awesome post and an awesome venue. You write so beautifully, Roo. I’m so glad you found what you’re looking for. x

  5. Oh Roo, so pleased for you and Lamb that you’ve found what looks like an amazing venue. It’s so tricky balancing what you want with what others expect of you. Compromise is a great word, if a pain in the ar$e!

  6. That.venue.is.awesome! LOVE it!

    Completely agree with finding something that’s you and having a list of must-haves before booking (great advice), we didn’t quite have a list but one thing I couldn’t compromise on was having somewhere that would let us have us do everything we wanted – that includes whatever marquee (teepee!) we wanted, whatever food/drinks we wanted, etc, basically a blank canvas. And so we got a field and put everything together ourselves, hard work but totally worth it!

    I’m sure your wedding will be super awesome – can’t wait to see it here on this awesome blog! x

  7. Elo Sunshine

    Wow, that place is stunning!!!
    If you find a place you really love but doesn’t have a wedding license, why not have a humanist ceremony? Please someone correct me if I’m mistaken but i think it is legal (for our wedding in Scotland it was) and you can have it performed wherever you want.
    Anyway, can’t wait to see images of THE wedding… X

  8. lucky you finding that perfect venue! wow!
    this is one bit we found really tricky & i’m still not 100% sold on it even now (it got to the point where I was asking if we could paint the walls for them!) but with our decorations & personal touches we’ll make it look great. At the end of the day it’s about us, getting married in my home town & being with everyone we love. as your post pointed out, it’s not the easiest thing to find & sort out.
    can’t wait for the next installment!
    the way you write is brill! x

  9. Post author

    Elo Sunshine – unfortunately humanist ceremonies arent legal in England – Scotland they are but not England 🙁

  10. Elo Sunshine

    Ooooh, thanks for clarifying Kat! I guess I’m lucky I met Mr Right in bonny Scotland then!

  11. Excellent post and a great insight into the venue hunt. I’m just starting the whole process myself so at least now I know what I’m probably getting myself into!

    Looking forward to more from this wonderful writer!

  12. Sarah, you have my deepest sympathies. If you come out the other side with a full head of hair intact, then you’re a stronger woman than I!

  13. WIN!! Awww Roo, alls well that ends well, and you’ve struck gold with that awesome venue of yours. Doll I have to say, it’s no easier in Scotland where anywhere’s legal because then the decision becomes near impossible if you fancy a wedding with a twist. You end up looking down dingy graffitied alleyways contemplating the mutha of all urban ceremonies…our grandparents faces would be priceless hobbling down a backstreet in all their finery, haha!

    Glad it all came good for ya poppet x

  14. Jo from far away

    Wow…what an out-dated law ! I had no idea that in the UK you couldn’t get married outdoors. Down here in Australia if you can convince a celebrant and your guests to venture to it…then you can get married there.

    Beach. Farm. Rock outcrop. Bush. The great outdoors is ready and waiting.

    Love your final choice. It looks brilliant.

  15. Sarah Binnie-Mckenzie

    Thank you so much for writing about your difficulty finding a venue-I thought it was just me! It’s a relief to know that I’m not the only person to have gone through this!

    It’s also very good to know that you found the perfect place! Wish me luck as my search continues!!

  16. I wish you the very best of luck! When we started searching I did wonder if it was just us, because I couldn’t imagine anyone else finding it so difficult. It really is a rocky road – if one day you find yourself losing faith in the search, then take a breather and get excited about other things instead. Whenever I’d had enough of looking at venues one day, I started trawling Etsy for wedding dresses 😉

  17. That venue is beautiful! We thankfully don’t have issues with parent’s opinions (they might have some but we are not listening!) but we are struggling to find somewhere. Our main problem is money, my fiance works for a charity so is not on a great wage and we have 3 children so we really need somewhere cheap but don’t want a registry office. We really cannot justify spending thousands of pounds on our wedding but still want it to be special. I’m sure we’ll find somewhere eventually, but I’ll be glad when the venue search is over!

  18. I think when working with a tight budget, it’s really important to get a breakdown of exactly what each venue is charging you. For example, the CUC charges something in the region of £1,300 for room hire (don’t quote me though, I can’t remember exact figures) but then with the cost of catering and VAT on top it brings it more into the region of £5-6k. Try and find a venue that can be flexible with your budget – are you able to hire it out but bring in your own caterers? You could do my favourite food idea and have each guest bring their “signature dish” with them. And a BYOB policy is always fabulous.

    Since you have kids, you should definitely exploit a childish element and try your luck at getting married somewhere REALLY fun – Alton Towers used to have a wedding license but unfortunately they didn’t renew it after it expired – however, you can still hold receptions there if you contact the events team. What could be better than zipping around on a rollercoaster in your wedding dress? Also, London Zoo and Chester Zoo both have full wedding licenses!

  19. Such an interesting article – I am on the other side of the fence as I am starting up my own venue. However, I am eager to make it a blank canvas that can allow each couple to have a completely unique experience. I want to be flexible with my clients to give them there dream day. The venue is a marquee set in stunning grounds on an estate in Suffolk. If anyone has any ‘musts’ that they’d like from a marquee venue – i’m all ears! Thanks

  20. Peyvand

    I am currently living this hell of trying to find a reception venue! Places I like are either too small, too expensive, or don’t allow to bring our own catering.

    We’re getting married in July at Islington Town Hall and initially were looking for somewhere within walking distance for reception. It’s this aspect that I think I might have to compromise on. We only need somewhere that can sit 50-60 people so nowhere too big! But we have very little money. One thing I will not compromise on is the catering, I want pie & mash and my bridesmaids are paying for this as their gift.

    I never thought of places like the Barbican, I work in the arts so this would be quite apt and it’s not too far away.

Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *