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Coronavirus: Weddings During Social Distancing? Join The Waiting Game...

Coronavirus: Weddings During Social Distancing

Alison Hargreaves Updated:
6th of June 2023

This blog was last updated in early January 2021 and is no longer being updated. Please see our coronavirus news article for the most up to date information or visit your government's website.

If your wedding is planned for earlier in 2021, it is understandable to be worried about whether it could or should go ahead. In England, the current lockdown measures are limiting weddings for the time being. The rules differ for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

Can my wedding go ahead?

In the current climate, governments around the UK are limiting weddings. Please read our Coronavirus news for the most up-to-date information on this.

Most weddings during the lockdowns in 2020 and early post-lockdown periods were postponed to later in 2021. With the announcement that social distancing measures will be in place for the earlier part of 2021, couples with weddings planned for this period are facing significant restrictions.

As always, we advise you to speak to your venue and suppliers to fully understand the situation at hand before deciding to make changes to your plans.

You also need to take into consideration where you are located. We advise that you check the restrictions for where you are based and where your wedding venue is located.

Wedding Ring Exchange

Will the actual legal marriage take place?

The simple answer is yes, outside of lockdown, couples in England can get married through a legally binding ceremony. Couples in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are also able to have their legally binding ceremonies with minimal numbers during their lockdowns (look at each individual government's rules before making your plan). 

However, we must remember the impact of COVID-19 on registrars and churches. For civil ceremonies and civil partnerships, you will be limited by the availability of registrars as their main priority is registering deaths and births. To get a marriage license, you will need to give a registrar your notice to marry at least 29 days before your wedding. It’s important to remember that every registration district works differently, so check your local registration district before making firm plans. 

It is unlikely to be any easier to have a statutory marriage in a registry office as appointments are very limited. For church weddings, you may need to apply for a Special Licence from the Archbishop if churches are closed and your Banns can’t be read, or you haven’t reached the habitual attendance requirements.

However, if you and your partner have been putting off the idea of tying the knot for whatever reason, now is definitely the time. Weddings of limited numbers will be going ahead, meaning those who have put off getting married will be able to enjoy an intimate micro-wedding with their very closest friends and family without the usual pressures.

Will guests want our wedding to go ahead?

If you have already sent out invitations, you’ve probably noticed that guests have been slow to reply to your RSVP. This doesn’t mean that they don’t intend to come! They are as unsure as you on how to handle the current situation and, like you, are waiting until things become clearer. If they don’t intend to come, they will usually tell you straight away. If there is one thing that is certain after weeks of lockdown, it is that your family and friends will be delighted to have the opportunity to get together and celebrate when they are allowed to do so.

Do you need to cut down your guest list to fit social distancing restrictions? Take a look at our guide to downsizing your wedding guest list.

Will our venue want our wedding to go ahead?

No venue wants to put anyone at unnecessary risk. So, your venue won’t open until they are happy that they have all the measures in place to keep you, your guests, and their team safe. Once they can do that legally and safely, they will be keen on your wedding to go ahead and will work with you to make any adjustments needed. For example, reducing guest numbers, moving to a larger function room, having more of an outdoor focus, or adding a marquee extension to increase space for social distancing.

Newly-weds dancing at their wedding

How do you feel about it?

Weddings are social events. During social distancing, there are certain parts of your wedding that won’t be able to go ahead as you have planned. This is incredibly hard for you both. Whether or not you continue as planned or postpone will depend on several factors. But, ultimately this has to be your decision. This will be dictated by what is important to you and of course, the rules around gatherings at the time of your wedding.

There will be guests who can’t be there. In particular, vulnerable or elderly relatives may prefer to keep their distance from a larger group, as well as guests coming from abroad. Speak to them. They almost certainly won’t want you to delay your special day just because they can’t be there and will get great pleasure from knowing that it went ahead as planned. 

If your wedding is all about having a party with 100+ guests and dancing, social distancing may involve too many compromises to your original plans.  You could go ahead with an intimate wedding and postpone the large celebration until social distancing measures have been lifted. This is referred to as a sequel wedding. Speak to your venue and suppliers about this option.

Numbers permitted to attend weddings in the UK are currently limited. So, if your wedding is about being with close family and friends, spending time together to celebrate with a meal, then you may still able to go ahead (again, this will depend on the regulations in your area).  If you can accommodate social distancing measures, your family and friends will be delighted to have the opportunity to get together. However, make sure you are hosting your event in a COVID-secure venue. Otherwise, you will have to adhere to the gathering rules which apply to private homes in your area. 

Perhaps, like many couples, your primary focus is that the two of you just want to be married, you will probably be comfortable adapting plans in whatever way you need to in order to make that work.

Will our “on the day” suppliers be happy to be there? 

Speak to your photographer, videographer, wedding planner, musicians, and anyone else who’ll be there on the day to check they are happy with the plans. Most will be more than happy to be back doing what they love. If, however, they are shielding or needing to self-isolate, they will discuss with you whether they should refer you to a colleague or refund your deposit. The latest guidelines exclude those working at the wedding from the numbers limit. So, in England, you will not need to worry about your on the day suppliers taking the space of a valued guest.

Musician playing as bride walks down the aisle

What if we decide to postpone our wedding?

Postponing to later this year or next year doesn’t guarantee that your wedding won’t still be affected by social distancing. The situation is ever-changing and nobody knows what is coming around the corner, however, we remain optimistic following the vaccine rollout. 

Speak to your venue and suppliers if you are thinking about postponing; they will want to be there for you and be able to help with further understanding the contractual agreements.

Couples that have postponed have described feeling hugely disappointed and deflated, with all the excitement of their wedding evaporating. The solution, perhaps, is to go ahead with the wedding as planned in whatever form that can take. Nearer the time, you can make a decision on whether to defer the larger party until a later date. Before making the decision, you may want to read more about postponements.

Will guest numbers be restricted? 

Yes, due to the current lockdown, weddings in England must only take place with up to 6 people. Anyone working is not included and the wedding should only take place in exceptional circumstances. Lockdown across most of Scotland means that weddings can take place with a maximum capacity of 5 people (including the couple, the witnesses and the person conducting the ceremony). For Wales, only a small wedding ceremony is permitted, with the permitted numbers dictated by the venue's capacity. The Northern Ireland government allows wedding ceremonies and civil partnerships limited to 25 people with no receptions.

When larger celebrations are allowed to return, we anticipate that numbers will still be limited in some way. Your venue or catering contract is probably for a minimum number of guests. Most will be happy for you to upgrade your menu or drinks package if you are reducing the number of guests or move some of the credit to a future party. For the intimate wedding, add courses, switch Prosecco for Champagne, and treat your guests to a feast to remember; really spoil those who are attending in person. Read more about how to make a 15 person wedding amazing.

There are also a number of ways you can include guests who are unable to attend, including live streaming or bespoke food services! For example, DineDelivered is able to offer wedding breakfasts to guests who can’t attend your wedding in person. The team will create a delicious three-course celebration meal for your guests that arrives ‘oven-ready’, so that they can easily join in your celebrations. You can also add canapes, a bottle of champagne, children’s meals and meals for special diets to make sure they have a truly personalised and special occasion in their own home.

Couple just married having wedding photos taken

When should we send out invitations?

It is customary to send invitations 8 weeks before the wedding, but at the moment it is hard for anyone to plan that far ahead. Keep in touch with your guests. Let them know your plans. That way they’ll keep the date free but won’t feel under pressure to make a decision until nearer the time.

Will I have my dress in time? 

Speak to your bridal boutique to find out the status of your wedding dress. They may have your dress in stock already and can arrange for you to collect it if restrictions allow. If it isn’t yet in stock, they will be in touch with the manufacturers and will ensure there is a back-up plan.

Dress fittings and alterations may be more of a challenge than normal during social distancing, so should be minimised. Keep fittings to a minimum by leaving them as close to the wedding date as your boutique advises. For more info on what to expect on your visit to the boutique, read our coronavirus bridalwear shopping guide.

Will we have the flowers we planned?

There are some limitations in the supply chain for flowers. If there has ever been a time to buy British and support local growers using seasonal flowers, this is it! Your florist will be used to working with what is available. You’ll get the best outcome if you can give them guidance on what you like, but then leave it with them to create something amazing. 

Can I arrive in a wedding car?

As social distancing isn’t possible in the close confines of a car, your wedding car company may be unable to take you to your wedding. However, some have been ensuring that they are COVID-secure by adjusting the features of the vehicle. If you are unable to arrive by wedding car, but it is important that you arrive in style, you might need to rethink your transport options. For example, a vintage bus, horse-drawn carriage, or stretch limousine may allow for the distancing required between you and the driver.

Rest assured, wedding car suppliers will be doing all they can to ensure that you, your guests, and the driver are all as safe as possible. Please note, wearing a face-covering in the car may now be a requirement to mitigate these risks.

Bride Arriving in Wedding Car - by Alexandria Hall Photography

Should we be making adjustments to the day?

Definitely! This is your chance to rewrite the etiquette book. 

  • Formal receiving lines won’t happen - this is great news for many! 
  • The group photo may need re-thinking; set up a background wall or photobooth and make a giant collage of individual photos instead. 
  • You’ll need to allow for more space between tables. This may mean spilling out into additional function rooms, a marquee structure, or onto the lawn.
  • You’ll need to have fewer guests on each table; your chance to get creative with table decorations. If you have an outdoor venue, get rid of table plans and give guests hampers, picnic rugs, and picnic tables. You could even look at a bubble wedding as an option.
  • Move the speeches and cake cutting to the end of the drinks reception. This way, elderly and vulnerable guests can enjoy the ceremony, drinks reception, cake cutting, and speeches from a distance. They can then choose to leave before everyone gathers together for the meal if they would like to.
  • Swap the dance floor for after-dinner entertainment or encourage guests outside with a firework display.
  • Be innovative by live-streaming, so those that can’t be there can join via video link. At Guides for Brides, we offer a Live Stream feature, using Zoom technology. With our feature, you can stream your wedding on Facebook or Youtube for £35 including VAT. See below for more information and contact if you would like to take advantage of the feature.

It’s not going to be the wedding you originally planned, but being different doesn’t mean it can’t be just as good, or better. It is your wedding day, it will be special no matter what, simply because it happened no matter what. If you're really struggling on where to start then here are our tips of how to start wedding planning during a pandemic

Alison Hargreaves

About the author

Alison Hargreaves

Guides for Brides founder and wedding venue expert, Alison has been advising brides and grooms for more than 30 years. She has an unrivalled knowledge of the British wedding industry and frequently appears on podcasts and expert panels. She regularly attends and speaks at international wedding conferences to keep the UK at the forefront of wedding planning trends.

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