As soon as we set the date we started talking about what sort of wedding we envisaged. Sorting out your priorities early on is crucial. Here are ours:
(1) We wanted as many of our friends and family there as possible.
(2) We wanted everyone to have a fabulous time and for our wedding to be especially memorable, not just for us, but for all our guests.
(3) We wanted to keep the budget as low as possible.
Now (1) and (2) are relatively easy when you have unlimited funds. The challenge was always going to be sticking to (3) without compromising the other two priorities. It was clear to me that I would have to get my creative juices flowing and have what is known in wedding circles as a DIY wedding.
The first thing I did was to hit the keyboard and scour the internet for ideas and information. I joined a wedding forum. A whole new world opened up before me; the world of fantasy-building, where people make their own dreams come true and no tiny detail is overlooked. Almost exclusively female, this world is stuffed with one-woman military operations executed with extensive plans, lists, mood-boards and timetables. If life is a stage, these women are the backstage production crew of the biggest shows of their lives. Outrageous, personal, emotional, spectacular, intimate memories are all catered for and mapped out here. The ladies of wedding forums share their experience, ideas and advice surrounding one of life's most stressful occasions. Needless to say, during these months (and often years), great friendships blossom, and occasionally huge rows explode. I have made some very dear and lifelong friends through the wedding forum. I owe so much to these ladies.
Very early on, one of my uncles asked if he could do the catering for us. He said he had always wanted to do a wedding - crazy guy that he is! Of course we accepted very gratefully. This uncle makes fabulous cakes. He does all our family's special occasion cakes; weddings, christenings, birthdays. And so he also offered to make our wedding cake as a wedding present. Bonus!! Kerry and I both agreed that we should like a traditional Lancashire pastie and peas supper in the evening. It's cheap, filling and just what you want in the middle of a drinking session.
So with the basic catering decided upon, we started to narrow down our venue options. The register office was obvious from the outset. Neither of us is Christian, so churches were out of the question, and very few venues offer wedding ceremonies as a stand alone thing, without your having the reception there too. Since we wanted to provide our own caterers, our reception venue would have to allow us to do this. Very few places do. Besides, it was a few hundred quid extra just to have a registrar travel to another venue. This grated on us and our 'keep the budget as low as possible' priority and introduced us to the idea of the 'W' word: Add the word 'wedding' in front of any goods or service and the price doubles or triples instantly. The whole industry is the greatest, whitest shark ready to devour you and your budget.
Luckily for us, our local register office is a good-looking building:
The largest room holds a maximum of 110 people. At first we had wanted all guests to come all day, but with an estimate of 250-300 people, it wasn't possible without spending silly money. And Kerry's best man had said that there was no way he would ever be able to make a speech in front of that sized audience. These things swung it for us. We phoned and provisionally booked our wedding. As we had nearly two years to go, the date was availabe and we had the first choice of the three time slots. We chose the middle one - 1.40pm.
The reception venue was more of a challenge. Finding a place we could have from early afternoon on a Saturday until late in the evening, that could hold up to 300 people AND who would let us do our own catering was not easy! In addition to these necessities, we also wanted cheap bar prices. We wanted a cash bar, but wanted to make sure our guests could easily afford to buy a round of drinks without worrying about the cost. The look of the place wasn't too important to us; you can do marvelous things to pretty-up dowdy-looking rooms. As long as the place had a good atmosphere and we felt that our guests would have a great time in there, the decor didn't really matter too much. We trawled around loads of church halls and social clubs for months before we found a place that met our needs.
A social club very local to us, that used to be a labour-club but had been bought up by one of the regulars stood out from all the other places as soon as we set foot inside. The whole place had a great feel. The guy who owned it was exceptionally helpful, reassuring and enthusiastic. And it was cheap - both to hire and to buy drinks. It ticked all our boxes and then some. We had overlooked it previously as it looked like a non-starter from the outside. There's no two ways about it, from the outside it's ugly. But once you're in there, who cares? It's not like we needed the exterior to look good on photos - they'd all be taken inside anyway. The place was fully booked for well over a year in advance (good sign), but thankfully it was free for our date. We snapped it up!!
Once your venues are booked, your wedding becomes very real. Exciting times!