9 months ago

Open Air Business February 2018

The UK's outdoor hospitality business magazine for function venues, glamping, festivals and outdoor events


FUNCTION VENUES Being fully outdoor, the weather can obviously be a challenge but we have put down hard standing leading to the parking area and there is a separate circular drive for all the services and contractors to get in and out of the field without churning up the grass. Our biggest challenge is at the end of our season. We cut and bale the field and nowadays, as farm machinery is so large, we have trouble finding contractors with small enough machinery to get through our gates. What facilities for outdoor functions do you offer? We do not own our own marquee as we only do six to eight weddings a year and felt that it wasn’t practical. Also every wedding has a different feel and look so we have a short list of recommended suppliers - one for tipis, one for traditional rope and pole etc. The same goes for caterers and bands as everyone wants something different so we let couples make their own choices. We prefer them to choose from our list as they are tried, tested and trusted companies. We have the Willow Meadow for the camping and the two vans/huts for more comfortable accommodation. There is also a cottage on the farm to rent, which most couples take from the Wednesday or Thursday before their wedding to use as a base, to get changed in, and then finally usually end up leaving their parents in on the final clear up day on Sunday. We have a deep freeze in the cow byre for ice and also a very large fridge for chilling the drinks ready for the wedding day. We run the bottles etc. down to the marquee on the morning of the big event rather than risk leaving them in a marquee overnight in the middle of a field! We now have three phase power in the field which means we don’t need a generator - much more cost effective and quiet! We do have a back up generator however for power cuts although we haven’t had any to date. Living in a village we are very conscious of disturbing our neighbours so we now employ a wonderful sound engineer to set up some specialist speaker equipment that not only limits the level of sound but is also very directional, so while the music is loud on the dance floor you can still hear yourself think (and speak) on the surrounding tables. This keeps the older generation, the council environmental officer and our neighbours happy! What services do you offer? Although we technically are just providing the venue, so that whoever hires it can pretty much do whatever they like to it, we do help with the logistics and coordination of the various other people providing services. We take delivery of the booze, store props and furniture, and run things back and forth from the cottage or cow byre to the field, marquee, copse or camping area. We have a number of garden games and are adding larger, more ‘fair ground’ type games this year. There are always two or more of us on site during the set up, on the day and during the breakdown and clear up. We marshal the parking and direct guests off the main road into the private drive and down to the parking. We provide, fill up and light the fire pits and continue to top them up throughout the event. We also provide and put up signs to loos, camping and parking etc. “PEOPLE COME TO US BECAUSE THEY CAN PUT UP WHATEVER THEY LIKE SO WE’VE HAD EVERYTHING FROM TIPIS TO BIG TOPS” The Willow Meadow is ideal for pitching tents and we have had up to 35 in that one space. We help drive the campers' luggage from the car park across to the campsite in our John Deere Gator, a sort of all terrain vehicle with a brilliant tipping load area in the back. It’s also used to ferry the more elderly or infirm from the car park to the copse for blessings, and Kate uses it on the Sunday morning to deliver and serve her wonderful fresh coffee and pastries to the hungover guests! The complete service we offer is so varied - whether the problem is missing hairspray, toppling wedding cakes, forgotten corkscrews, migraines or flat batteries in cameras, Kate and I will do our utmost to solve it. Describe how you researched and sourced your structures We started the business encouraged by a friend who had a vintage marquee company and wanted to photograph her marquee in our field. We used her marquees for a few weddings but really people come to us because they can put up whatever they like so we’ve had everything from tipis to big tops. Having been doing this for six years now we have a few suppliers that we recommend as they do all that they promise they will and are good, reliable people to work with. We have planted a wonderful 14 WWW.OPENAIRBUSINESS.COM

FUNCTION VENUES willow temple and 100 metres worth of willow tunnels for the children to play in. This is harvested annually to provide material for the creative courses we also organise on the farm. How do you work with your customers to make their event unique? Every event at Church Farm seems to be totally different - we really do offer our clients a blank canvas to do whatever they would like, our only restriction is that music finishes by 11.30pm. Other than that we are very flexible; you can even start setting up as early as Wednesday so there’s plenty of time for a couple to decorate or build their vision. The last wedding we had was like a mini Glastonbury with lights on poles and flags, fires etc. You name it they had it, and they really did need the three days to set up - not many venues give their guests so much flexibility and freedom. How do you publicise yourself? Mainly through our website and social media - Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook. We are also registered with two wedding websites. How would you describe your ‘style’ or unique selling point? Kate and I are as much of our USP as anything, though we can’t take all the credit as everybody involved goes towards making Church Farm a “IT TOOK THREE HOURS JUST TO GET THE LOO TRAILER IN PLACE AS WE HAD TO MOVE IT ON SHEETS OF PLYWOOD LIKE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS MOVING A LARGE ROCK! ” beautiful, magical, calm, fun place to be. We are relaxed and welcoming, but also efficient, professional, well organised and have a huge attention to detail. We have a “no problem/ can do” attitude and if you can’t find it, we will! The fact that the farm is a blank canvas for people to do exactly as they want to (within the bounds of decency!) is also very unusual. The grounds are well cared for but still with lots of wild, natural elements, and we have a strong environmental and ecological ethos behind what we do, with recycling and sustainability high on the list. What challenges have you faced? The main challenge is weather, or at least the problems it creates. Our first wedding was in October 2012 and it had rained non stop for weeks. At that stage we didn’t have any hard standing or a separate drive for vehicles so we had to bring all the marquee lorries and caterers a very long way around the field to prevent the main reception area from getting turned into a scene from the Somme! It took three hours just to get the loo trailer in place as we had to move it on sheets of plywood like ancient Egyptians moving a large rock! We decided to bite the bullet and pay for the circular drive we have now and there hasn’t been a problem since. When we started we were also trying to help couples save money and learned that not having some things done properly was just false economy. For example, one couple’s catering tent (their own cheap one from B&Q) blew away as they didn’t want to pay for a company to put one up; we ended up putting up our own one to save the day but now we know better. Describe your average day midseason No day is average - it’s all down to the couple and how organised they are - but basically on a wedding day it goes like this: › 6-7am - up and out to open gates and check the signs are out. Hang the Church Farm wedding sign above the gate and private drive. Set/check the electrics and supplies for the band and caterer etc. › 8-10am - help move anything out of the marquee into the games or blessing area. Direct the loo trailer etc. › 11-12pm - deliver drinks etc. to the marquee for the caterer. Take delivery of the last gifts, flowers, wedding cake etc. Take camping guests’ tents etc. to the Willow Meadow › 12-1pm - help set up the sound system/lights/band WWW.OPENAIRBUSINESS.COM 15