The Wedding Planners - Honeysuckle & Castle discuss the ins and outs of organising a wedding

Helen and her husband pose in front of Kedleston Hall Photo: Oehlers Photography

Helen and her husband pose in front of Kedleston Hall Photo: Oehlers Photography - Credit: Photo: Oehlers Photography

Sally Castle and her sister Helen Stephenson of Honeysuckle & Castle wedding services – a small, family run, award-winning, wedding and special event business – discuss the ins and outs of organising a wedding

Sally Castle and Helen Honeysuckle

Sally Castle and Helen Honeysuckle - Credit: archant

What inspired you to be a wedding planner and what keeps you motivated?

Since childhood, Helen and I have both been crazy about weddings. Several years ago, and completely by accident, we applied for the same job and realised that we should work together. Over time we developed our business and three years ago were thrilled to begin working exclusively with the National Trust, creating two unique wedding venues in Derbyshire at Kedleston Hall and Calke Abbey.

We are a pragmatic and creative sister act. We constantly bounce ideas off each other and are addicted to finding the latest wedding trends. We love the unique and quirky and our philosophy is ‘No couple is the same, so their weddings shouldn’t be either.’ Our motivation is to give our clients the day of their dreams and help to create memories they can cherish forever. We are genuinely honoured to play such a pivotal role in one of the most important days of someone’s life.

The perfect timeline – when do you recommend booking the church/venue etc

We don’t want to scare anyone but if you want to have everything when and where you want, you need to book your venues two years ahead, especially if you want a summer wedding on a Saturday. We are already receiving enquiries for 2018 and recently have seen a massive increase in the number of disappointed couples who have contacted us for a 2016/2017 wedding. This has been the same for many of our recommended suppliers. We advise people to book the ceremony location and reception venue first and then start looking for everything else – there’s no point having the dress if you haven’t anywhere to wear it. Two years also gives you time to save, and the opportunity to gather, evolve and change your ideas, find suppliers to suit you and even begin making things yourself. It’s a good idea to attend as many wedding fayres and meet as many different wedding specialists as possible. We’re lucky in Derbyshire to have a diverse and high quality range of wedding products and services available but it can still take time to find exactly what you want.

A bride needs to leave time to find their dress, too. It normally takes from six to nine months to order a dress and have alterations made. Sending out save the date cards is a good idea. There’s nothing worse than being told by your best friend or a close relative that they’ve already booked their holiday next year so they’ll miss your big day.

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What are your top six items to consider when planning a wedding

1 - What sort of wedding day do you both want? It’s important the event is what you’ve both imagined and suits both of your tastes, wishes and budget.

2 - Where would you both like to host your event? It’s important to consider the practicalities, such as the size of the venue and whether you have exclusive use, where you can have photos taken, whether it has accommodation and how you and your guests will get to and from it. It is also good to know how the venue will help you organise and run your event, whether you will have a dedicated wedding planner and how much access you will have to them in the run up to your big day.

3 - What will your overall budget be and how will you allocate it? You need to be realistic and allocate it sensibly. There’s no point having stunning flowers if your guests have nothing to eat. We advise people to budget for their ceremony and venue fees first, plus food and drink. After those it’s easier to see where and how to spend the rest. Other large outgoings are the photographer, the entertainment, the dress and rings. Decorations should not be a priority, but we all know that’s really not true. Thankfully it is one area that you can make a saving on if you’re savvy and prepared to make things yourself.

4 - Who are you going to invite? How many people do you want to invite for the daytime and night-time events? Who do you really want to be there? Will children be attending and are there any special needs such as wheelchair access?

5 - What sort of food would you like to be served and when? You need to decide if you want a traditional meal or something alternative such as a barbecue or tapas-style food to share. Don’t be afraid to be daring and think carefully about which foods you both like as well as those you don’t. The time you get married will affect how much food you need to serve and when people will be hungry. It’s vital to know if any guests have special dietary intolerances or allergies.

6 - What entertainment do you want/need and will your guests enjoy it, too? This covers everything you need to do to keep your guests entertained and happy throughout the day. We recommend distractions during photographs and in the ‘lull’ between eating and the arrival of evening guests. This could be in the form of live music, a close-up illusionist or table-top games. If you have lots of ‘little people’ attending, a good children’s entertainer is worth their weight in gold and allows adults time to relax. In the evening, the best weddings are those where everyone is on the dance floor all night long! You need to choose music carefully, something that will get everyone in the mood to dance no matter who they are or their musical taste.

What are common pitfalls? Is there something important that people often forget?

People often forget about time and try to fit too much into the day. Couples forget what the day is really about and don’t leave themselves time to enjoy it. People also fail to realise that photographs usually take longer than you think and there are always too many people to speak to. A couple often doesn’t appreciate that one of their happiest days will be one of the longest and most exhausting too. A couple has to be a little selfish and make time for each other. Those little moments on your own together are precious and must be allowed for, otherwise your joint memories will be limited.

Can you recommend an easy and inexpensive way to make your wedding stand out?

The best way to personalise your wedding is to design and/or make as many of your own things as possible. You can easily create your own stylish stationary, table centres, decorations, seating plan, favours, bouquets and button holes. Find out from the venue what has looked sensational there in the past and think about how to recreate/improve on that while incorporating your own theme and vision. Recycling and upcycling have become immensely popular and our clients have created their own photo booths, guest books and candy tables from all sorts of different objects. Old records, second-hand books, empty paint pots, battered suitcases and step ladders have all been turned into amazing wedding products. We once had a groom who made his own waistcoat from scratch and a bride who made all six of her bridesmaids’ bouquets from silk flowers and vintage jewellery. In both cases the results were stunning and they saved themselves a fortune.

What are the most important things to look out for when choosing your venue?

The crucial thing is whether it is what you really want and whether it suits your style and budget. Whether it allows you to hold the type of event and accommodate the number of guests that you want. What are you allowed or not allowed to do, eg whether confetti, candles or fireworks are allowed. Find out what type of food and entertainment you can have and what time the bar will close. Always ask which wedding specialists they recommend and why. Also think how it will meet your guests’ needs and if any special requirements are necessary. A good venue will work with you to find a solution and you should have a dedicated co-ordinator to liaise with.

What are your top Derbyshire wedding venues?

Obviously we are completely biased and think that our gorgeous venues at the National Trust are the best in Derbyshire! We are lucky enough to work exclusively in some of the finest and grandest properties in the county, if not in the UK. Locally, we believe that there are not many places that can beat our range of ‘historical treasure troves’ in terms of organisation, providence and romance.

How do you design weddings that reflect the bride and groom?

We aim to create the day that our clients want and listen carefully to their likes and dislikes. As well as creating the usual image boards etc, we try to get to know them on a more personal level so that we can find ways to make their ideas work in their venue. No matter what it is, we always strive to accomplish it and ensure originality. We encourage clients to put a personal twist on every detail. This is achieved by offering them unlimited contact with a dedicated member of our team and regular meetings and venue tours. Sometimes a client needs unbiased, practical advice and a little reassurance to perfect an idea. We pride ourselves on the relationships we forge with our clients and genuinely believe that this is the crucial element that ensures they are happy and have the day they dreamed of.

Can you predict top wedding trends for 2016?

Recycling and upcycling will continue to feature heavily and incorporating taxidermy, trophy antlers and pheasant feathers will become more commonplace. The trend for shabby chic will continue to evolve and become more sophisticated, polished and sharper. Metals such as bronze, gold and copper will feature heavily in all areas, but especially table centrepieces, cake design and bridal accessories. They offer greater opulence and look stunning when combined with bold colours, textures and patterns.

Since last year, flower arrangements have become a lot bigger and bushier, with more greenery. We think the ‘just picked from the garden’ look will become ever more popular and greater combinations of contrasting seasonal flowers will be used. There’s also an emerging trend for using pot plants too.

Have you a ‘most challenging’ moment you can tell us about?

Our most challenging moments almost always involve Mother Nature. Luckily we’ve only had one or two battles against freak weather conditions.

What are your top three tips for someone who is planning their wedding.

- Be organised and give yourself plenty of time to do everything.

- Don’t be scared to make the day what you want it to be.

- Try to relax and allow yourself a chance to enjoy the entire process.

Sally, tell us about your own wedding and did you learn anything new from planning it?

It was the planning of my own and our middle sister Alison’s wedding, within a year of each other, that taught us what it was to be a wedding planner and the logistics required to make a wedding day run smoothly.

Back then, one of our biggest learning curves was finding wedding suppliers that were consistently good and reliable. Remarkably, 10 to 12 years ago the internet and social media were still under-developed in this area and you didn’t have the access to websites, reviews, write-ups and blogs that you do today. It really was limited and we relied heavily on word of mouth or what we saw on display at wedding fayres. I had several bad experiences with our venue, which influenced how Helen and I later structured Honeysuckle & Castle and how we run things at our venues today.

In contrast, Helen’s wedding last year was a far more stylistic, elegant and lavish affair. Not only had fashions and styles changed for the better but so had the types of products, services and props on offer too.

When Alison and I got married a ‘photo booth’ was something you sat in to have your passport photo taken, ‘vintage’ meant moth-eaten and ‘singing waiters’ were the sort of thing you saw on a travel programme about Italy.

Helen’s wedding reminded us how to see things from our clients’ perspective and again influenced the type of packages and services that we offer at our venues. The whole process reinforced the need for simplicity during the planning process and that’s what we try to achieve with every wedding we organise.

Honeysuckle & Castle, Unit E, The Bartonfields Centre, Barton Blount, Church Broughton, Derbyshire DE65 5AP. Telephone: 01332 460122; Email:

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