Holy Trinity Wedding Festival 12 -14 February 2016
Maureen Bellett approached me with the idea of displaying her collection of wedding gowns approximately 2 years ago. At the time we were planning another Nativity Crib Festival and the World War One Exhibition. I discussed the idea with the vicar, Lizzie Hood, and church warden, Mike Hawtin, and we decided it was a great idea but we would 'park' it until a suitable time. About a year ago we decided on the date, to coincide with Valentine's weekend, and Maureen set to planning her creation for most of the year. A committee was formed to bring together different skills, and we first met in August 2015. The Committee comprised Maureen Bellett, Lizzie Hood, Mike Hawtin, Beverley Burgess, Pauline Lindsey, Lisa Farmer, Lee-Anne Visagie and Jean Britt.
Our objectives were to build community, to celebrate marriage and showcase the church as a wedding venue, and to raise funds for the church. It was decided that with these goals in mind we needed to do more than display the gowns. We wanted some input from local companies and asked for sponsorship. Florists were asked to display wedding flowers and we needed a wedding cake for the 'reception' at the end of the festival. One of the best decisions we made was to include photographs of weddings at Holy Trinity church through the years. This, we thought, would catch the imagination of others in the village, not just the congregation, and it did just that! Members of the public could also upload their wedding photos onto our Facebook event page, and that got people in the community talking - the page reached over 2000 people in the week of the Festival. Mike put together a display of photos which scrolled continuously on the newly installed screen in church. Then we thought it would be a nice idea to have wedding photos of members of the congregation who were married elsewhere, and we displayed these un-named, so we could all try to guess who was who! As we had for the Crib Festival, we invited the U3A Calligraphy Group to produce a display, illustrating texts from the Bible and the Marriage Service.
Maureen was responsible for designing the exhibition, along with Lee-Anne who masterminded the floral displays and other creative touches. Lisa and Lee-Anne were responsible for approaching companies for sponsorship, and the florists and flower groups for displays. Pauline took care of the rotas for the huge team of welcomers, stewards, catering and raffle sellers, as well as providing a children's quiz and colouring activity, and typing the notices displayed by the gowns. She also helped me with arranging for the donations of cakes for the refreshments. I was responsible for the catering, and made soup all weekend! Mike was responsible for the photos and the publicity banners, and organised a team of 'heavies' to transport dresses, mannequins and display boards. Lizzie managed the whole project, invited the VIPs, was involved with publicity and a display promoting church weddings, and arranged to borrow our oldest Marriage Register (1850-1952) from HALS, which added to the historical interest of the event. Cathy Ayling arranged radio interviews and newspaper reports. Jacqui Sheppard led on publicity. Ann Radband typed up Maureen's notes. Jean and Elizabeth Cooper made confetti from fresh flower petals. Barb Le Tallec was our photographer.
The set-up began on Tuesday 9th with Maureen, Barb Le Tallec and Ann Radband preparing decorations for the chancel screen and the overhead poles. The next day was Ash Wednesday, so we paused for worship, and then the whole team set about moving furniture, bringing in rostra and display boards, transporting mannequins, decorating the porch and other floral displays, until we called it a day at 9.30pm. Thursday was another heavy day - all the mannequins had to be dressed, displays labelled, and finishing touches to the decorations, and the Trinity Room had to be decorated and tables laid out for catering. Balloons on the gates, cash floats, children's activities... the list was endless, and the day finally finished at 9.40pm.
The festival ran over 3 days. In the end we had 47 dresses on display, dating from 1810 to the 21st century, and over 100 photos of village weddings on the screen. 620 visitors were welcomed, and there was a real buzz about the church as people reminisced about weddings and the history of the village. Many commented not only on the fun and friendliness, but that the festival gave them a chance to think more deeply about the blessing of marriage. On the Saturday at 5pm Maureen Bellett gave an interesting talk about some of the dresses and the history of wedding customs. At Sunday morning worship we had to squeeze into the available pews, and peer through the dresses! The Festival closed (on Valentine's Day) with an afternoon service of Thanksgiving for Marriage at which couples were invited to renew their wedding vows. The Mayor and Mayoress of Dacorum attended, and afterwards we all enjoyed a glass of Prosecco and some wedding cake.
Monday morning, and time to take it all to bits. Thankfully an army of people came to help, as the team were feeling pretty exhausted. It was accomplished in record time, and everything transported back again. And the church returned to its Lenten simplicity!
(With a couple of minor additions. by Barbara Chapman)