What’s the best type of venue for a Humanist ceremony? I’m often asked this question. There is no single answer because it depends what you want?
A Humanist ceremony is built around the couple. Their life, their hopes, they dreams, the plans, their family, their memories. And the little fantasy that they run over time and time again in the dark, when they imagine what their day will be like.
My favourite venues – as a celebrant – are the ones where the people who run them are professional, flexible, fun, well organised and unflappable. Four come to mind immediately – all are very different. Here I am going to consider what made the difference to me as a celebrant. I have my job to do – I write the ceremony, get to know the couples very well, I get to know their families and their plans. But only the day before the wedding – when we do the run-through do I get to know the venue. The venue owner, or the venue manager.
Take Barrington Hall in Cambridgeshire for instance. It’s big. Palatial. It has marble floors, acres of land with big cedar trees, a permanent marquee and dance-floor and Jana Barnard – the manager – is a whirlwind, she’s on top of it all and has a magnificent sense of humour. She is also great at spotting great couples and great celebrants and she is even better at putting them together where she can. Thanks Jana! Here she is in action:
Then there’s College Farm at Thompson in South Norfolk. Very different. An ancient, ancient farmhouse with gorgeous grounds, plenty of room for a village fete (which we had for Adam and Laura’s wedding), and plenty of geese, chickens, sheep and alpacas. Especially Brian the alpaca. Who is special.
Katherine Wolstenholme is the owner and her family have lived at College Farm for centuries. Literally centuries. The place has an amazing history, it’s so picturesque. Katherine is calm and grace personified but with a wicked sense of naughtiness that I love. She organises marquees, catering companies, brides who want to arrive by rowing boat, overnight guests and breakfasts to die for on the morning of the wedding. One of my favourite women.
Then there is the highly original Belle Grove Farm near Halesworth in Suffolk. Filled with the fabric and the memories of the travellers that are Jo Jordan and Nick Fisher – Africa, India, the Orient. The atmosphere is that of an intimate and warm family welcome, the garden full of Chinese pots and exotic plants and with a Maharaja’s room in the garden for ceremonies. Jo and Nick have their own magnificent stories to tell and a number of barn conversions which make family celebrations so easy – it provides an exotic backdrop for a wedding, a vow renewal or just a celebration.
Jo and I are collaborating on a unique Belle Grove/Dawn Rees Ceremonies offer from 2020 where you get and all-in-one package of the venue and the celebrant! Given that we think we were probably sisters in a former life, I can see only good things happening!
Or how about Voewood House in Holt. A magnificent Arts and Crafts House that sleeps 40, with an art collection and each room decorated to a different theme. A kitchen with a double Aga. Room outside for guests and ceremonies in three different locations in the grounds; sufficient room for stretch tents and marquees, but also room inside for a wedding and 120 guests in the ceremony room, or a vow renewal or baby naming in the music room, Mary Swallow at Voewood is a great communicator and her major talent is being effective but almost completely invisible! Which is why I don’t have a photo of her!
And finally there is The Flint Room in Norwich. Formerly a church it is now owned by the Norwich Historic Churches Trust. All denominational material has been removed, leaving a magnificent building which Lindsay and Trish have made into the go-to non-denominational venue for people who want quirky, original, fun, filled-with-light spaces stuffed with chairs and sofas, cabinets and curios for that highly individual feel that some couples crave. Just perfect for Humanist ceremonies. I’ve done a baby naming there and have two weddings booked there for next year and I can’t wait to get back there.
What these venues and people offer a celebrant is fabulous atmosphere and backdrops against which to set the ceremony atmosphere, they have experience, knowing their own place and their own staff, flexibility, are great communicators, problem solvers, know local people who can problem solve too (like if speakers refuse to work or extra tables are needed, vintage crockery is required or the bride wants unicorn hobby-horses!!)
As a celebrant, working with wonderful venue owners and managers makes my work so much easier on the day and working together means that couples get more than the sum of two parts (the celebrant and the venue). This is my chance to say thank you to them.