Wow, where should I start with this one! It's been an interesting 8 months for the entire UK events industry that's for sure...
Customers started to contact us re postponing their weddings in early March. We had just over 100 weddings booked and were looking forward to the usual busy season. By late March it's fair to say we were getting increasingly concerned about our future. What started as a trickle of customers postponing became a landslide and by the middle of April every job we had from May to July had postponed or, in the case of larger public events e.g. National Trust and festivals, were cancelled.
By the end of April the outlook was improved thanks to a raft of support measures put forward by the government. Furlough scheme, bounce back loan, local council grants, VAT deferral etc. We took advantage of everything we could as did virtually every business I know (whether they needed it or not....).
In the end, most of our August to October jobs also postponed or cancelled. We managed to deliver 6 socially distanced wedding builds which is a fraction of what we'd normally hope to get through, but they were all successful and happy occasions.
It's not all bad, though - my colleagues and I had a nice summer off, dealt with some personal priorities, spent time with immediate family and generally chilled out. I'm sure we aren't the only ones who enjoyed riding the furlough train! It's hard to explain how manic a regular event season is, and nine in a row can catch up with you in many ways.
What has been a challenge is keeping pace with the regular changes in directive. I know it's an impossible situation but so many events were on, then off at the last minute. It's been a rollercoaster. Even recently with the rule of 6 coming in our enquiries collapsed for a few weeks with the 'life may be restricted like this for 6 months' guidance Thankfully enquiries are picking up again for 2022 in particular now.
We have already seen customers who postponed to 2021 postpone again to 2022. As it stands we are happy for customers to do this but the situation is a dynamic one. We will always be as supportive as we can. There is positivity now around the vaccines in development so let's hope life returns to normal in early 2021.
It's my opinion that the events industry has been rather overlooked through all of this. Many companies have suffered a downturn and many have seen a significant downturn e.g. aviation and hospitality - but there can't be many industries that have faced a 90% plus downturn! For a few months it felt like weddings were being unnecessarily demonised and we fully supported the 'what about weddings' initiative on social media. Was there any evidence that socially distanced weddings of 30 people are a hotbed for the virus whereas aircrafts full of people are not? I didn't see any...
If you're planning a wedding in the next year or two you may struggle to obtain a decent insurance policy. Currently no insurers are covering weddings including the once highly respected John Lewis. We therefore recommend that all deposits paid to suppliers are paid on credit card so you benefit from the free insurance (as you would when booking a holiday). This is what we're recommending to all our new customers.
Thank you NHS and key workers for everything. Thanks to the vast majority of couples who were incredibly supportive and have stood by us at a very difficult time too. We look forward to working with you as soon as we're able.
Stay safe and well :)
One thing that often gets left to the last minute is power. This is because many people don't understand the power required to run an event and how to calculate watts, volts, amps, single phase, three phase and the equipment required to make it happen.
Before starting Oakleaf Marquees I used a marquee for my wedding reception (which was the catalyst......but that's another story) and I believed it would be possible to simply run a few cables from the house (a common misconception). The caterer told me this would be a bad idea in her experience, so I approached a local generator hire company. It was a tiresome experience, as if I was learning a new language from scratch. So here are a few pointers to help the uninitiated!
POINTER 1: Do your sums
Firstly, find out what power is available at your venue: how many sockets, what sort of sockets they are (in amps) and, if the sockets are 13amp or 16amp, how many ring mains there are and what the maximum load of each is (in watts). It's also useful to know how far the sockets are from the marquee.
Secondly, ask your suppliers what equipment they are bringing and how many watts each requires (3,000 watts is 3kw by the way). Also, get an idea of how many sockets they'll need to plug into, where they'll be required in the marquee and give some thought to the timetable for the day so you can work out what's likely to be used concurrently in order to establish a max figure to work with.
If your venue is a residential house, it's likely you'll have a handful of 13amp sockets running on just one ring main. Most ring mains are around 7,500 watts (7.5kw). So if you have a loo trailer (needs 3kw), an urn to make hot drinks (another 3kw) and lights inside the marquee (1kw plus), you're nearly at the max of what the ring main can deal with.......and that's not including any appliances that happen to be on inside the house. This is why caterers wince when you mention powering everything from the house! It's also worth checking that the house's power supply is reliable. Depending on how much power you need, an electrician may be able to wire a supply directly into the fuse box.
If your venue hosts events regularly, it's likely it'll have a beefy supply already installed (like Harry Warren House andMapperton House for example). There will probably be several (blue) 16amp sockets, or a couple of 32amp, or even a 63amp socket. Check whether the socket covers are blue or red (the latter indicates that it's a three phase supply which I won't bore you about now).
We are always happy to help you out with power. Often this is covered at the site visit.
POINTER 2: Some event equipment needs a lot of juice
As touched on above, anything electrical that heats (hot cupboards, urns, turbo ovens, hot lamps, fat fryers etc) use a lot of power. Allow 3kw per appliance to be on the safe side. We once did a job and the caterer had ten electrical appliances on the go because of the complex (and incredible) menu! That equated to nearly 30kw of power - or, to put it another way, 4 regular houses worth of power!! The 'standard' catering spec is in reality around 6-12kw.
Large appliances such as toilet trailers and chiller/freezer trailers use lots of juice too, 3-3.5kw each.
Generally speaking, bands and DJs don't pose too many power problems unless their sound systems are enormous (and we've only encountered an enormous system once).
POINTER 3: Don't cut it too fine
It would be very tiresome if your event suddenly loses power because the house dishwasher cuts in or someone flushes the loo in the loo trailer. Always add a contingency figure just in case and never leave it down to the last couple of hundred watts. Power outages are not fun: loos stop working, it goes very dark, some start screaming, it goes very quiet and even the drunker guests know something's wrong!
POINTER 4: Generators
As you've hopefully done the research covered above, you're nearly there! We can provide 45kva (36kw) modern and super-silent generators that come with a distribution board, cables, sockets, 20-24hrs worth of fuel and delivery/collection for £450+VAT, so you could just hire one from us - job done! Alternatively, you might not need a generator quite so big (you may even need one bigger) in which case we recommend the friendly and knowledgable guys at CES Poole.
You could also try one of the chains like Brandon Tool Hire or HSS but make sure you compare like-for-like: do their quotes include fuel, cables and everything else listed above? Are they available 24/7 if something goes wrong? Also, one important generator point: ensure that whatever you hire is 240v and NOT the building site spec 110v (with tell-tale yellow sockets) - that would be a hell of a mistaka-to-maka.
A common question we get asked is 'how noisy are your generators'. Well, they do make a little noise but it isn't offensive and once you have 50 plus people in the marquee, you'll never notice. Space allowing we can position the generator up to 25m away from the marquee too.
In a word........rubbish. I know we're in 2014 now and last year was 2013 but I feel we all have something to learn from the events of 2012.
Firstly, as you know, the weather was appalling. Other than a hot period towards the end of May when we were all scorched to oblivion and two or three consecutively nice Saturdays in September, it literally felt like it rained all summer. A rainy and miserable day is the recurring nightmare of anyone that books a marquee. For me, the rainy weather reached a particular low point on the 6th and 7th July. We had marquees up in Weymouth, Pulham, Dorchester, Horningsham and Honiton. A month's rain fell in South Dorset in 24 hours and Bridport was practically closed for the day.
Marquees can flood. There, I said it, and that's exactly what happened to the wedding marquee we had down in Weymouth. I'll never forget it. Drainage at the site wasn't great (mainly because of the huge amount of rainfall that had occurred in the two months leading up to it) and there were slopes on 3 of the 4 sides. Heavy rain rolled in and little puddles started appearing on the Friday afternoon. Big puddles started appearing soon after.....eventually turning into one giant puddle. Needless to say, there were tears. So, a team laid a wooden floor overnight with new carpet and left the marquee at nearly 5am on the Saturday. The show MUST go on (and in the end the marquee looked incredible).
There are steps that can be taken to ensure that heavy rain doesn't ruin your day:
1) check how the site drains when it rains heavily or persistently
2) avoid positioning a marquee at the foot of a slope if the forecast looks awful
3) consider having a wooden floor which raises the carpet a couple of inches off the ground so rain doesn't soak into it (we can often supply this at short notice)
4) if you're having a drinks reception, use the dance floor area of the marquee or allow extra space so you don't have to huddle around the tables. You can think of the marquee in three sections: reception/dining/dancing and each can be divided by a reveal curtain if you wish
5) consider having matting/carpet for paths so shoes don't get muddy
6) buy a few golf umbrellas from a place like Sports Direct (£2-3 each) so guests can move
between the marquee and toilets/house in the dry (this is cheaper than having a covered walkway or putting the loo in a dedicated marquee)
LESSON 1: plan for wet weather, hope for sunshine
You would think that the bride and groom had their fill of bad luck what with their marquee flooding. But that wasn't the end of it. In the early hours of the morning, thieves entered their marquee and removed cards, gifts and cash in cards to the value of £2,000. I cannot even begin to describe how low those thieves are. It just shows the kind of people that exist out there.
LESSON 2: remove all valuables from marquees unless you're confident the site is secure
Our warehouse was broken into in mid June. It came as a bit of a hammer blow to my spirits because I hadn't experienced being the victim of thievery since school and when you throw your heart and soul into something you just can't believe that others will treat it with such disregard. Anyway, they took our washing machine, my gas barbecue (wedding gift) and a few other minor bits. But the thing that really hurt was that they took our first van, the trusty Iveco Daily 2008, and burnt it out just a few miles up the road. I won't get too carried away because I don't intend to use bad language on my new blog. All I'll say is check out event industry legend Grumpy Joe's thoughts on dealing with thieves: Grumpy Joe's Dung-slinger
LESSON 3: buy a dung-slinger. If that fails, consult Jasper Carrott's advice on dealing with moles
This post is probably striking you as being pretty gloomy. 2012 wasn't all gloomy. We had our first child, the Olympics were inspirational and we were involved in many, many lovely events. One that comes to mind is the 100th birthday party we provided a marquee for in Mere. The only access was through a neighbours garden, across their patio, over a 5ft stone wall, then a carry of 100ft up another garden. 5 tons of kit......in November. We felt like the Oakleaf Marquees field gun team (and definitely would have beaten Portsmouth or Devonport). The customers took such care of us - fish and chips on day one, homemade pasta on day two. Here is the feedback we received:
"Your outfit exemplifies perfectly the qualities people in the service industry need to have - I really can't tell you how amazing it was to have such extraordinarily helpful people around. And I meant it when I said that if you ever have enquirers dithering about whether to use you or not, just put them in touch with me and I will tell them exactly what the experience was like. What I won't tell them - and which impressed me HUGELY - was that you didn't press us for a deposit knowing it was for a 100th birthday that might or might not happen. Quite unnecessarily nice of you but so much appreciated!"
I'll finish on a few more positives. If it does rain on your event, the good news is that guests tend to be inside having a good time as opposed to being scattered around outside. Also, you'll have a good conversation ice breaker.......and we've noticed that alcohol flows a bit more freely when it's raining.
LESSON 4: if it rains, there's still a bar to be enjoyed
Thanks for reading!