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How to move your Wedding Ceremony Outdoors in England and Wales
Following the news that civil marriage and civil partnership ceremonies will be able to take place outdoors in England and Wales from 1st July 2021 until at least April 2022, we’ve looked at the advantages of an outdoor wedding during Covid and the points you, your venues and suppliers will need to consider if you are moving your ceremony outside.
Advantages of an outdoor ceremony during covid
While social distancing is needed, this change to the law allows more people to attend wedding ceremonies as numbers aren’t restricted to the venue’s socially distanced capacity. 65% of venues have suitable space outdoors or in a marquee.
One of the big concerns for couples during covid is their guests and wedding party being required to wear masks during the ceremony. While this is legally required in indoor settings (unless you are exempt), it is a personal choice when outdoors. Whoever is walking you down the aisle will not need to wear a mask, if you are outside.
Outside is Safer
Being outside decreases the risk of the virus being transmitted. Your guests are likely to feel more comfortable at the event if they are outside.
Better use of space
Many venues will benefit from the extra flexibility that comes from using a marquee or outside space for the ceremony so that they don’t need to ‘turn around’ the ceremony room for use later in the day.
Outdoor wedding considerations
Weather, Weather, Weather
We all know the weather in the UK can be unpredictable. So, make sure you (and your guests) are prepared for all weather situations for your outdoor wedding.
Your numbers will ultimately be restricted by that wet weather alternative – unless of course you are happy to uninvite guests!
Sun and Heat – For hot and sunny weather, you’ll need to ensure your guests have access to shade, water and sun cream. Umbrellas, marquees, stretch tents or trees can help with shade.
Remember, to be considered “outdoors” at least 50% of the sides of a marquee or similar structure must be open.
Rain – You’ll need to have a wet weather contingency plan in place. Agree in advance with your venue when they will revert to the contingency plan and be aware that, if in doubt, they’ll need to play safe and move indoors. It’s not a decision that can be made at short notice.
Wind – On windy days, it can be difficult for guests to hear the ceremony and the vows. Using a microphone will help your guests hear everything that is being said, but bear in mind there may be restrictions on amplified sound outside at your venue.
If you are using a temporary marquee, special pinning will be needed as opening 50% of the sides makes it more susceptible to the effects of the wind.
Grass and unstable footing
Tell your guests that your wedding might be moving outdoors so that they can dress accordingly. If your wedding is taking place on grass or an area of unstable terrain, they may want to wear flat shoes or other suitable footwear.
If you, or your bridal party are wearing heeled shoes, consider investing in heel stoppers to prevent ruining both the lawn at the venue and your shoes!
In order for your ceremony to go ahead, the location of the wedding will need to meet certain requirements.
License – In order for your marriage or civil partnership to be legally binding, your ceremony must take place on the grounds of a venue that is already licensed for civil ceremonies.
Public Access – The location chosen must have public access, but ideally where there’s no risk of passers-by heckling during the ceremony.
Appropriate Signage – There’s a requirement for correct signage.
“Seemly and Dignified” – Your ceremony location needs to be in a ‘seemly and dignified’ location. The change in law is all about allowing couples to get their guests outside, not about allowing couples to get married halfway up a tree! If that’s the dream, this is something you can do, but you will need to have a celebrant-led ceremony and complete the legal formalities at another time.
How do I move my wedding outside?
Speak with your venue
Your venue will ultimately have the final say on this decision. Their teams will need to consider the logistics of the move, including whether their existing furniture would be able to be moved outside or whether they need to invest in or rent new furniture. They will also need to assess the space they have and update their risk assessments.
Agree the wet weather plan
Once your venue has given the go ahead for an outdoor affair, they will need to agree with you on the point at which the wedding moves inside or undercover. Remember, if needing to move indoors, this could mean less guests being allowed at the last moment and requirements for more mitigations, including masks. So, it’s important to be on the same page with the timings for this decision.
Can we get married in a marquee?
You can get married in a marquee, stretch tent, tipi, yurt or any similar structure, as long as 50% of the walls have been removed. Some venues are already erecting marquees and stretch tents for the season, but there may be additional costs, organisation time, risk assessments and permission required from the council to allow for this.
While outdoor weddings will generally allow more guests to attend the event, your venue must still allow space for social distancing both indoors and outdoors.
Social distancing is now a personal choice, however your venue needs to allow space for those guests who want to distance themselves from others, as well as allowing space for their staff to move around safely. For this reason, social distanced capacity now includes all staff, suppliers and children or babies of any age.
The law now allows for confetti to be thrown, but cleaning it up is a challenge outdoors. Some venues allow the use of bird seed outdoors or biodegradable confetti such as dried petals.
Discuss the change with all relevant suppliers
You will need to warn all on-the-day and any other relevant suppliers about the move to an outdoor setting. In most cases, their risk assessments will need to be updated to reflect the change, but they may also need to be prepared to protect their equipment. For example, some musical instruments are affected by water, or a change in temperature, and electrical equipment will need suitable protection.
Why has this change to the law come into place?
Many in the wedding industry have been fighting hard for larger numbers to be allowed at weddings if suitable risk mitigations are in place. Being outdoors is a good risk mitigator. The government is hoping this change in the law will allow couples to have more people at their wedding and help prevent more weddings being postponed.
Can I have my legally binding ceremony at home or on private land under this law change?
No. This change has been specifically brought in to allow legally binding ceremonies to take place on the grounds of venues already licensed for civil ceremonies.
If you want to have your ceremony at home or on private land, you can absolutely do this, but it will not be a legally binding ceremony. Speak to a celebrant to find out more about how this works.
What about weddings after April 2022?
The law commission have been working on changes to the marriage laws of England and Wales for some time and it is expected that outdoor weddings will be part of that, possibly in a wider range of locations and using celebrants as well as registrars.
We predict that weddings will continue to be outdoors after April 2022, but perhaps with wider reaching changes at that point, or soon after, to allow even more choice. However, we simply don’t know yet.
We don’t know whether this change suggests that weddings will be restricted to socially distanced capacity until April 2022, however Robert Buckland supports the need for the industry to recover fast.
My venue is allowing me to move outside but I can’t have more guests. Why is this?
Your venue is legally obligated to follow the rules set in place by the government. Not all venues will be able to accommodate more guests in their outdoor space. Equally, some venues may be considering their wet weather alternative and if this means moving indoors, you could suddenly be faced with losing many of your guests at the last moment.
Remember, there is a positive to being outdoors aside from guest numbers. This includes more flexibility in other areas of the guidance, such as face coverings.
Will my Registrar be happy to move outdoors?
Can we have readings at an outdoor ceremony?
Can guests sing at outdoor ceremonies?
As always, we recommend that you speak to your venue and suppliers before finalising any changes to your wedding plans. You can read our guidance summaries and find all the links to relevant government documents in our article, Weddings After Lockdown in 2021.
About the author
Written by: Alison Hargreaves
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