As soon as possible...!
Make choosing your venue one of the first things you do. The sooner the better especially if you have your heart set on a particular place or date. Tying the two together can’t always be possible so be prepared to be a little flexible. Some venues are booked years in advance for key Saturdays during the summer months so don’t delay.
Since April 1995, the Marriage Act of 1994 has permitted civil marriages to take place somewhere other than a register office. This has meant that civil marriages have become increasingly popular, mainly due to the number of romantic and beautiful venues that can be chosen.
Known as an ‘Approved Venue’ there are certain restrictions. The venue must be licensed and must be a permanent structure comprising of at least one room that provides a 'seemly and dignified' place where civil ceremonies can be performed. This does not include temporary structures such as tents or marquees or structures that are capable of being moved or structures that are open to the elements, such as gazebos or verandas. The premises must also have no recent or continuing connection with any religion, religious practice or religious persuasion that would be incompatible with its use as an approved venue.
In England and Wales it is currently not legal to conduct a civil ceremony outdoors. However, in Scotland recent changes to the law mean you can get married almost anywhere that takes your fancy as long as it reflects the dignity of the occasion. The only criteria is that the location must have a grid reference which means if you choose to marry on anything that moves, such as a boat, plane, train or car, you must be stationary for the actual ceremony. This is also worth bearing in mind for outdoor locations. If there's a change in the weather and the heavens open you can't suddenly change venues from the one stated on the wedding license, therefore make sure there is somewhere undercover nearby if the worst does happen.
Most borough or county councils will have a list of approved venues within their jurisdiction, often available on the council website for convenience.
You may be looking for a venue where you can hold your civil ceremony and your reception under the same roof. Or you may be searching for the ideal place to hold your reception following a church wedding. Whatever your needs are, you probably have fairly strong views on what you don’t want, and a slightly more fuzzy view on what you do. Thoughts and feelings on venues are usually a mixture of your memories of favourite locations and your experiences at the weddings of others, both good and bad! Your choice of venue will very much dictate the overall theme of your wedding so it’s not a decision to take lightly. A good place to start is to draw up a list of all your ideals. The key things to consider are:
· Location. Think about the practicalities of the wedding party and guests getting to the venue. How far do you expect people to travel? If you are planning a church wedding, is the venue a reasonable distance from the church? Will you provide transport from the venue to the church and vice versa?
· Facilities. What exactly do you need from your venue? Ceremony and reception? Reception only? Evening entertainment? Accommodation? Would you want to be the only wedding taking place on your chosen date? Would you require sole occupancy of the venue? Where would you have your photographs taken? What time does the venue expect the wedding to end? If you are party animals, a venue that stops serving at 11pm probably isn’t for you!
· Cost. Set yourselves a budget and try to stick to it! If your ideal venue is too expensive on Saturdays would you consider choosing a weekday? Savings could be considerable. Look carefully at other areas where you can cut costs such as bringing your own alcohol, corkage or choosing sparkling wine for toasts instead of champagne. If you need accommodation, can you get a discount on booking a block of rooms? Beware of hidden charges and ensure you have a fully comprehensive quote before you go ahead and confirm your booking.
· Size. Start your search with a rough idea of the number of guest you are likely to expect for both the wedding breakfast and evening reception and also for the ceremony. Many venues have a choice of rooms depending on the number of guests.
· The little details. Do you have any disabled guests? If so are the facilities up to scratch? Is there adequate parking available? The venue will be non-smoking of course, but is there an outside area for smokers? Is there an area where guests can talk and relax away from the disco or band in the evening but still feel part of the action? If you are looking at a marquee, are the toilet facilities comfortable? Meet the staff at the venue and make sure you like their approach. Are they warm and friendly yet professional too? They should instil confidence in you straight away. Ask to check out any testimonials and the visitor book for recommendations and past comments. Find out about the payment and cancellation policy too.
· Children. The decision whether to include children on your guest list can be a great bone of contention, be sure that whatever decision you make, you’ll never make everyone happy so go with your gut instinct. Remember, one persons little angel is another’s worst nightmare, so if you do decide to invite children be sure to make arrangements to keep them properly entertained. If you know children are a certainty make them a consideration when choosing your venue. An evening baby-sitting service would be great, allowing those mummies and daddies to let their hair down a bit at the evening do! Other great ideas are children’s entertainers or mobile crèche/nursery services. How about a separate table for the younger guests to dine at under professional supervision and why not organise a quiet dvd session in another room whilst the speeches take place.
Once you have decided on the ideal venue, establish a point of contact and don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. Get written confirmation of all the arrangements. You’re paying for perfection so don’t hesitate to ask for it! Remember to make your initial booking a provisional one as you will need to check that either the church, registry office or registration officers are also available on your chosen date.