As an event organiser, many people thought that I would have planned every last second of my wedding years ago. I have met lots of women who have no partner but know what dress they are wearing at their wedding. They know where they will be going on their honeymoon. Many also know the exact venue where they will be partying the night away with their imaginary groom. Whilst I have always known the type of wedding I wanted I have never really thought about the intricacies or specifics.
Then I got engaged…..
I got engaged in May 2011 and was hugely excited about planning the wedding of the century. As an event organiser, friends and family had high expectations of what my day would be like and I was planning on living up to these expectations.
The first item on my wedding list was to find the perfect venue. I did not know exactly what I wanted but I was sure I wanted something classy, with a long winding driveway. Traditional but modern.
I created a list of around 20 venues and began visiting them. Some were in my city of residence, Birmingham, others were in my home town of Nottingham. I immediately fell in love with a number of beautiful venues. However, when I would discuss my menu requirements I was met with disinterest, confusion and at times hostility.
Why I hear you ask.
As a proud British born Jamaican marrying a proud British born Nigerian, we were adamant that both of our cultures were represented in our big day. One of the biggest elements of both of our cultures is food. It was therefore imperative for both of us to incorporate our cultural foods into the most important day of our lives.
For many venues that we visited, this simply was NOT an option. 85% of the venues we visited did not allow any outside catering yet did not have any specialist chefs that could prepare our food or who were willing to learn.
At first I was slightly shocked by this realisation. However after a while I began to get angry. This occurred when I visited venue number 17. A beautiful hotel in Sutton Coldfield with amazing gardens and a spacious marquee. When I suggested to the venue owner that we would pay for a trained chef to train their in-house chef in the preparation of a Caribbean menu I received the following response:
“We are just not interested. If you want Italian, Spanish, English, Greek we can do it. But Caribbean, no. Maybe you need to set your sights a little bit lower and consider hiring a community hall as you are not going to be able to get a venue of this standard”
Was this man serious? Yes indeed he was. Whilst I huffed my way out of the venue a ‘nice’ lady recommended a venue to me as she ‘understood’ my plight. When I googled the venue it was actually an African inspired garden centre. Really? That’s where I should get married?
I could shock you with a list of all of the rude, offensive and ignorant comments we received from a plethora of venues in and around the Midlands but I wont. Instead I shall move on to my next issue.
In the excitement of being an engaged lady, I began attending wedding fairs. During the summer of 2012 I attended about ten and by number 8 I came to a stark realisation. These wedding fairs were not organised with me in mind. The vast majority of the exhibitors were not suitable for me. The hairdressers did not cater to my afro hair type, none of the caterers specialised in the food I wanted, the musicians were not playing the type of music that my guests would enjoy and the bakers did not bake the type of cakes that are traditional in the Caribbean community. I began to ask myself:
Do black people not get married?
This could not be the case as I saw lots of black women at these fairs. I started doing research amongst the black women I knew who had got married or were planning a wedding and was upset with the responses. Many had chosen halls and social clubs not because they couldn’t afford a nice venue, but because the nicer venues did not cater to their food requirements. Many of the brides I spoke to also felt alienated by the vast majority of the wedding fairs. They were great for ideas and finding generic items such as flowers, table covers, photographers etc. but they didn’t provide choices for people who were not from a white, English, middle class family.
As someone who is particularly ethically conscious, I also noted that there was a distinct lack of ethically conscious suppliers . I like to purchase from ethical businesses and was shocked that as a bride I did not have the option.
The Alternative Wedding Group was born out of these specific challenges. We will be organising wedding fairs that cater to a diverse group of individuals planning weddings. We will also be offering a wedding planning service for couples planning alternative weddings that require specialist knowledge of culture. We have also chosen to add wedding master classes for couples planning their own weddings but need a helping hand.
So how do we solve the venue issue?
One of the managers at a venue I visited asked me “Is it really that importtant to have Caribbean food at your wedding?” I asked her “Do you want Caribbean food at your wedding?”. She answered “no”. I responded “So why would I want English food at mine”? No bride should have to compromise on their special day. Especially not when it comes to something as important as food. As such we will also be acting as advocates, liaising with venues to shine a light on this discriminative practice.
We will not be sidelined and we shall not compromise!
It is not all doom and gloom. Me and my significant other were happily married at a beautiful venue in Nottingham Goosedale Banqueting Suite. It had the long winding path, the traditional with the modern and most importantly they allowed us to bring in outside caterers. I shall not linger on the fact that our caterers totally let us down and did not deliver the expected standard but I shall save that story for another day. The wedding coordinator Melissa was also amazing and bar the catering we had an amazing day which included various elements of both Jamaican and Nigerian Culture.
If you need help planning your cultural wedding give us a call on 0121 622 3603 or drop us an email firstname.lastname@example.org
Daniella Genas – Director