Tens of thousands of female business owners and sole traders have been left astounded and angered as government minister Paul Scully described weddings as “essentially just parties” in response to a question in the House earlier this week.
The UK wedding industry is worth more than £10bn to the UK economy every year, and is serviced by approximately 137,000 businesses. A great proportion of these are headed by female entrepreneurs and yet again, the government is being called out for dismissing a sector heavily populated by women.
Following the recent furore following ill-judged comments about the beauty sector, this female-focused industry is being ignored and belittled by an overwhelmingly male leadership. A quick look at the trending #whataboutweddings hashtag on social media shows the increasing anger about the treatment of the industry, and also of couples themselves, all of whom have been left without proper guidance and no timetable for review of the current restrictions.
“It’s easy to dismiss weddings as frivolous events but that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what they are,” says wedding celebrant Tamryn Settle of Wild & Oak in Oxfordshire, who is part of the campaign led by industry professionals to shine a light on the current issues surrounding weddings.
“Weddings are rites of passage, they’re important family and community events and however couples choose to celebrate should be respected. Beyond that, weddings also provide tens of thousands of women with flexible work and the opportunity to run their own businesses. For the government to write this type of work off as unimportant and to not be able to grasp the economic impact of ignoring this sector is nothing short of foolish.”
LaToya Patel, co-founder and CEO of Surrey-based wedding and event planning company SW Events and co-founder of The Asian Wedding Club says: “I got into business because I wanted flexibility with my time and this year looked really strong. That all changed on a dime in March and I’m having to rebuild it all. I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t had an emotional and mental impact on me. This is a real test of the entrepreneurial spirit I know I have and I’ll continue to fight for what we do and for our industry.”
Not only are so many of the industry businesses run by women, but they also employ a huge number of female freelancers and sole traders throughout the year. Also part of the campaign for clarity is Jessie Westwood, Director of a high end design, production and floristry business Studio Sorores based in The Cotswolds. “As a single mother and bread winner for my family, with an established business built over a decade, I find the current government approach extremely disappointing. I personally employ hundreds of talented women across the sector every year, many of them also parents and able to work flexibly around their family,” says Jessie. “It’s not only the lack of respect for female led industries that shows obvious sexism in parliament either, we have also been left to continue running our businesses and in many cases diversifying to survive, with absolutely no childcare provision during lockdown or at least until schools can reopen. It’s clear to me that there is a sincere lack of women involved in making decisions on policy.”
The wedding industry gives women the chance to run a business in a sector that really supports other women, as Rugie Wurie from Mrs Wedding Planner Ltd. explains: “I started my London-based wedding planner business eight years ago after being made redundant during my second pregnancy. As a first-generation black businesswoman and mother of three, I struggled accessing resources of support but I now run an international brand serving couples from different ethnicities all over the world. Sadly, all of my couples have postponed to 2021 and this has led to a severe loss of earnings with a ripple effect to household finances.”
Nadia Woodall, an award-winning wedding stylist of owner of Jam Jar Weddings & Events in Stourbridge also started her business after being made redundant whilst on maternity leave and five years on, her business was booming before the pandemic hit: “I have an incredible business with a fully booked diary but now, without a roadmap and without further support, I fear this industry will never look the same again. I reached out to my MP with no response, my local council are limited by government guidelines which leaves us in limbo. Rishi Sunak said nobody would be left behind but this government seems content to see us disappear.”
Donna Hartley-Redfern, of North East Wedding Planner in Durham, says: “My entire income has been wiped out and yet I’m working harder than ever to keep my business going. This industry is run on passion, dedication and by gutsy women who could give circus performers a run for their money. We juggle families, long hours and now we’ve simply been abandoned without any support at all. We are strong women who stepped up and braved the world of self-employment yet now it seems the Government wants us to sit back and become little women while we wait for them to get their act together. Well, they’ve clearly never met us.”
The group of industry leaders heading the campaign are calling for urgent clarity, a roadmap for the industry, parity for all couples, and a stimulus package to support the wedding and event sector who have lost almost an entire year of work already. They estimate £3bn+ has already been lost, and the figure is set to double now that the peak season of June – August is all but gone without a long term plan for recovery.