To say 'I do'?: Engaged couples debate whether to wed after cap on guest numbers lifted but dancing and mixing still banned

Couples who had booked to tie the knot after the proposed ‘freedom day’ were left with a bittersweet taste in their mouth when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced they could have more guests to their wedding - but they were still unable to mingle.

By James Holt
Friday, 25th June 2021, 3:38 pm

Thousands of weddings across the country risked being cancelled when Boris Johnson announced that until July 19, restrictions on socialising and keeping a distance had to remain in place over fears of the rising Delta variant.

According to the UK Weddings Taskforce, 12,500 weddings per week were estimated to be cancelled with restrictions not being fully lifted along with £325m a week from the wedding sector lost and 275 tonnes of pre-ordered food binned.

Although the cap on guest numbers has been lifted, from 30 to whatever venues can now safely hold, engaged couples are still unable to dance alongside family members, chat at the bar or mingle with other tables until at least July 19 when the restrictions will be reviewed again nationally.

Freckleton couple Harriet Gingell, 28, and Craig Barlow, 32, have decided to take their vows regardless having already cancelled their special day twice last year

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Determined to make the most of their big day, Freckleton couple Harriet Gingell, 28, and Craig Barlow, 32, have decided to take their vows regardless having already cancelled their special day twice last year.

Hosting their wedding on July 4 at Ashfield House, Standish, the couple decided that they would go ahead with their plans having waited more than a year to be wed.

Dance teacher Harriet said: “We got engaged before the pandemic and had booked our first wedding for last June which was of course cancelled because of Covid. We then rebooked for December but went into a lockdown so decided to move it to July this year.

Harriet and Fiance Craig are staying optimistic about their big day next week

“We had always said that we would be going ahead with it no matter what this time, as we just could not bear to go through planning it all again.

“To be fair, we have just remained really positive and optimistic about it because for all we know, we could still be in this situation next year. We just wanted to get married because we have had this planned for such a long time.”

Although the build-up and preparations for the wedding haven’t been quite what Harriet and fiance Craig had in mind, she said they are just thrilled to be able to spend their day with all their family and friends.

They had to choose their wedding cake flavours by trying out delivered cupcakes at home, have been unable to try their wedding food courses and have even missed out on their ideal stag and hen parties due to the restrictions on travelling.

Emma Kerrigan and her fiance Andrew Pilkington had a mock-up wedding party to stay in good spirits

Harriet added: “It hasn’t been ideal and of course it has stopped us getting as excited about the planning as we would have normally, but we are just really happy all our guests can be there - everything else is superficial and isn’t as important to us.

“We had our big band cancel and the DJ on us as well, but luckily haven’t lost out too much financially. We are a fairly small wedding so at least this means everyone can attend safely and we don’t need to cut numbers down.

“We just can’t wait and now it is getting closer, we are trying to keep excited. We will make the most of it and just could not have waited another year.”

The decision for Boris Johnson to make an exception for weddings and wakes had been expected before his announcement on Monday, June 14, with many people having rebooked cancelled events for the weeks following June 21.

Emma and Andrew have postponed again until next May, in hopes of having their dream day

The new regulations, which have now brought weddings in line with funerals, means the maximum number of guests is instead dictated by the venue, based on how many people they can hold with social distancing measures in place.

The fourth phase in the roadmap out of lockdown, planned to do away with all restrictions, was put on hold until at least July 19 as the vaccination rollout continues to pick up the pace.

In his briefing, Boris Johnson said: “To give the NHS that extra time we will hold off step four openings until July 19 except for weddings and wakes.

“Now is the time to ease off the accelerator because by being cautious now we have the chance – in the next four weeks – to save many thousands of lives by vaccinating millions more people.”

36-year-old Emma Kerrigan and her fiance Andrew Pilkington, 39, from Clayton Le Woods, were also set to tie the knot last June at Gisburn’s The Stirk House, but had their big day postponed.

Weddings are being hosted at Gibbon Bridge with up to 80 guests. Phil Garlington & Jebson Photography.

Having now been holding out for their wedding day for 15 years, they do not want their day to be anything other than perfect and were among those who have chosen to postpone for yet another year.

Wife-to-be Emma said that as soon as she heard the Prime Minister say that guests would have to social distance, they immediately rebooked from July 10 to next May, for their own peace of mind.

Emma said: “When we cancelled our wedding last year, we really thought that in another 12 month’s time all of this would be over and back to normality.

“When the roadmap was announced, it sounded too good to be true and we were still very apprehensive about having our wedding this summer.

“We carried on with planning, had dress fittings, paid the suppliers but always had the worries niggling at the back of our heads that it could be cancelled. The build-up is meant to be the most exciting time but it just wasn’t the same.

“We have been together 15 years and don’t want our day to be anything less than perfect. We would still have to cut our guest lists down, couldn’t mix with our family and friends and would have constant reminders of Covid on all our wedding pictures.

"None of it would happen the way we would have liked so it made sense to wait again until next year because we just can’t go through this again and we can have the wedding we have always wanted."

And wedding venues in Lancashire have said the latest announcement lifting the cap on guest limits is welcome news, but say they are still facing cancellations as people opt-out over social distancing fears.

Edward Walmsley, Wedding Events Manager at the Gibbon Bridge Hotel said people deliberately chose to reschedule their weddings after June 21 in hopes that all Covid restrictions would be lifted, with many now left disappointed following the announcement.

Although the venue is hosting day weddings this weekend, he said couples are cancelling evening celebrations because of the restrictions.

He said: “It is more helpful than it was before - we are quite a large venue and can comfortably hold 80 people which is significantly more than the 30 that the government were allowing.

“We are finding however that evening functions are being cancelled because people won’t be able to have normal celebrations and mix with each other still.

“There is no entertainment and they can’t even get up out of their seats to speak to people such as their family and friends.

“It's a challenge for us because we need more staff to be able to wait on tables which comes at a cost, people are spending less because they can’t be stood up at the bar so we are still losing out.

“We are still a step closer and we can just manage for a few more weeks, but this will be crippling if it continues.”

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