Lifting the Veil – An Open Letter to Wedding Venues

Lifting the Veil

Welcome to Lifting the Veil. This series is a collection of blogs which aims to give a voice to black wedding suppliers, enabling them to thrive – not just side-by-side with, but hand-in-hand with their white counterparts. We would like to educate, inspire and inform wedding venues of the ways in which they can consciously change the dialogue around unconscious bias, and therefore positively affect the output and structure of their spaces.

This is a candid and honest blog which will be using collective accounts from black wedding suppliers across the UK. We will be looking at how wedding venues can address the subconscious bias which may exist within their teams, branding, marketing and internal organisational structures.

As with many other sectors and industries in the UK, wedding venues need to embrace diversity in their approach, offering and content, as well as in their staffing.

An Open Letter

As a mother of two, my patience and tenacity are at an all-time high. Nobody goes into either entrepreneurship or motherhood fully aware of the journey to come, and certainly not both together! For me, a moment of real enlightenment was when my then-seven-year-old daughter handed me a scrappy piece of paper and told me I was the first person to have her business card. I realised that my children were watching me, and consciously or not they were looking to me for their inspiration. I realised the importance, strength and impact of the unspoken.

This is testament to the old saying that actions speak louder than words. In that spirit, we want to hold a mirror up to the behaviours – both conscious and unconscious – which erase black culture, black couples and black wedding suppliers from the widely accepted face of weddings.

In recent weeks, we have all borne witness to a tsunami of fashionable content created to give lip service to a topic currently in the headlines. This movement is welcome and necessary, and will hopefully herald change. However, the issue it highlights is not new, and neither is the story.

The aim of this blog is not to shame or expose the subconscious / conscious bias and racism that exists within the British wedding industry, but educate on the unspoken power that you, as venues, have to enact visible change.

I am a wedding day coordination specialist, working with couples planning their own weddings to ensure that in the final stages of planning and on their wedding day itself, they can sit back, relax and enjoy their day. I have worked with black couples, white couples, mixed couples, same-sex couples and couples who come from a variety of different cultural backgrounds. It’s fair to say that our clients are so varied that we would not be able to outline one particular client ‘type’ as being more drawn to our services than any other. Our wedding couples have been featured in magazines, won awards and have had budgets as diverse as £25,000 to £150,000. We see ourselves as an asset to any dry hire space or venue not providing professional wedding day coordination services to a couple. Yet as black female business owners, our experiences to date have fuelled the feelings that have led to this letter.

There are several things which I regularly experience that I would like to share. There are the awkward silences during wedding venue site visits, where information is only shared when requested specifically. There are the blatant attempts to ignore or not acknowledge me as a hired professional of the wedding couple. This often takes the form of directing answers to questions that I have asked to the couple themselves, in order to avoid eye contact with me. When the wedding couple is black, it is much more common for the venue representative to mention the average spend at the venue, compared to when the couple is white. This suggests an assumption that cost might be more of an issue for a black couple. Then there is the giddy excitement of approval when we bring the ‘wow’ factor, and far exceed the expectations of a venue, yet we only appear on the recommended supplier list of one venue in thousands?

From the beginning, we have had experiences of direct and indirect racism within wedding venues. Sadly, we are not surprised because, within the industry, black people are largely unrepresented. There are almost no quality wedding venues that are black-owned. Black people are missing from managerial teams, front line staff and recommended supplier lists. Given this is the current situation, it is no surprise that we are not respected in a space where we barely exist.

One industry-wide example is this: when our wedding couple is black, venues have often told us that they do not have any black caterers on their recommended supplier list. The reason given has been that they ‘don’t get those types of weddings here’. This creates a space in which black couples are finding their wedding needs unmet. They don’t want some stereotype of a ‘black wedding’, but they do want one that is deeply personal – as we all do – and which reflects them and their cultural influences.

Black couples are finding themselves restricted to using banqueting halls, limited dry hire venues and halls for hire to have a wedding, in order to meet the needs of their desire to have more influence and freedom to choose. Given the number (always on the rise) of successful young black people in this country, this feels like a short-sighted approach on behalf of the industry as a whole.

As black wedding suppliers, we cannot claim to have become invisible when our existence has never been revealed. We are missing from any platform unless we have created it for ourselves, or we have paid to be part of it. Our industry is thriving, but we are not represented. We are hugely capable, we are more than worthy, and we are ready and willing, but we can’t get a foot in the game.

With all that now in the open, can you afford to remain off the now socially acceptable Black Lives Matter-driven bandwagon, or will you be at the forefront of proactively ushering in REAL change? You can become more than a good ally to the cause by becoming an effective ally (Brandon Kyle Goodman – WATCH)

For those of you who have recognised some or all of what you have read, might you be the forward-thinkers that we seek? Could you be the movers and shakers taking time out to take stock and create a new narrative for your venues? We are here to help and would like to offer a few suggestions for immediate action:

  • Full transparency: Set up a fair process for obtaining access to your recommended supplier lists. Review them regularly, and promote the process on your websites to ensure that you are inclusive.
  • Increased visibility: In your teams on all levels, do not think it’s enough to hire one black person as a nod to the current climate, or as a step in the right direction. There is a lot of untapped black talent out there – so actively seek it out! Do not look to your one or two black employees, and expect them to be the voice of all black people. This includes placing them front and centre whenever a black couple is visiting your space.
  • Be proactive: This is your responsibility! When you come across amazing black wedding suppliers, ask them for recommendations to other suppliers from their community. Actively seek out great black-owned businesses to add to and enhance your offering.
  • Influence your industry: If you are hosting a styled shoot, a wedding show, or an industry-focused event, ask the organisers if it will be inclusive. Demonstrate your commitment to this by encouraging your peers in the industry to do the same. We have created an email template that you can use in response to these requests.

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