How to have a stunning socially-distanced Dorset wedding

Wedding procession at Mapperton House & Gardens Photo: Paul Underhill

Wedding procession at Mapperton House & Gardens Photo: Paul Underhill - Credit: Archant

Two of the county’s most prestigious wedding venues reveal how couples can still plan the stylish ‘big day’ they’ve always wanted

The private chapel at the Alexandra Hotel can be used for civil ceremonies or set up for a wedding b

The private chapel at the Alexandra Hotel can be used for civil ceremonies or set up for a wedding breakfast celebration Photo: Matt Austin - Credit: Archant

It’s safe to say that 2020 has been a strange year – especially for the wedding industry and couples planning their special day. In the space of three months we went from holding celebrations that were as intimate or as grand as you wanted, to a complete ban. Three months later only small wedding ceremonies could take place – but with no reception. Thankfully this has now been relaxed and small wedding receptions for up to 30 guests are allowed from August 1.

So, what is the ‘new normal’ for weddings now, and what potentially might they look like in the future? Hannah Newman is the weddings manager at Mapperton House in Beaminster. “Since the pandemic hit in March, we’ve kept in touch with all our couples booked in for 2020 and discussed alternative plans, such as their best plan B dates,” she explains. Though most of Mapperton’s 2020 weddings have moved into 2021, Hannah is looking forward to the publication of a weddings ‘roadmap’ from the government and industry association ABWB (Association of British Wedding Businesses ), which should give greater clarity on the future rules for ceremonies and receptions.

“We have precautions in place for our venue show rounds to ensure we operate as safely as possible and, as dates for 2021 are becoming booked up fast, we’re also offering a refundable deposit for couples who are not yet in a position to travel here to a venue show round so they can safely secure their date at Mapperton.”

Couple photographed in the gardens at Mapperton Photo: Thomas Foreman Photography

Couple photographed in the gardens at Mapperton Photo: Thomas Foreman Photography - Credit: Archant

Kathryn Haskins, is the owner of the Hotel Alexandra in Lyme Regis. She and events co-ordinator Phoebe Taylor say that they already comply with government guidelines without sacrificing style. “Strict cleaning measures are in place and our staff are fully trained in the new guidelines, so guests can rest assured that they are in safe hands

“Most couples have decided to postpone their special day until next year, with the hope that by then we are operating as usual. At the Alexandra we are very lucky to have something very important during these times – open space. Our gorgeous cliff-top garden with its views of the Jurassic Coast is perfect for summer days, but inside we have enough space to allow for social distancing,” says Kathryn.

“The biggest tip I can give in these times is to be patient and open-minded,” adds Phoebe. “It may be frustrating not to have the day you originally envisaged, so why not think of a whole new plan for your wedding? Plan a ceremony with closest family and friends followed by a few smaller dinner events with other friends and family spread over a few nights. You could have these in different rooms with different themes – a romantic garden tower, seven-course tasting menu, an Orangery dinner with its doors opening onto the steps and across the lawn to the sea and perhaps a chapel dinner too.

What are the new rules for wedding and civil partnership celebrations? Photo Ivan Zelin Getty Images

What are the new rules for wedding and civil partnership celebrations? Photo Ivan Zelin Getty Images/ Stock Photo - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

“Many brides say of their big day - ‘it went too quickly’, ‘I didn’t manage to speak to everyone’. Maybe it’s time to have a wedding week instead of a day and there wouldn’t be additional costs – it would be the same to feed 80 on one day or 20 over four days.”

Hannah has some other creative suggestions: “Make the wedding day a special standalone event, separate to any larger celebration you might plan for the future. Is there something indulgent you would like which wasn’t a part of your original wedding: an incredible floral arrangement or cake for example, a few luxurious bottles of bubbly or a whole different outfit? Weddings are first and foremost about the vows you make to each other, so this smaller style of wedding means you can focus on your love and commitment to each other and the support of your closest family and friends.

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“Find ways to involve the guests who aren’t able to join you by live streaming the ceremony. You could ask guests to record a video message to play at the reception or send a simple favour and photo card to the guests who weren’t able to join you as a memento of your day.”

Kathryn and Phoebe sum up the sense of uncertainty around weddings and other celebrations: “It’s easy to say ‘things may be back to normal by next year’, but the truth is no-one really knows. You might not have the wedding day you dreamt of, but whilst you wait to see what happens next you can still visit venues, florists and try on dresses.”

That said, the trend for pushing events into next year means you need to get in quick with dates and key suppliers. “2021 is already looking busy,” says Hannah. “Make sure you get everything planned early rather than leaving it to the last minute. The bonus with this approach is that once everything is in place you can simply sit back and relax and look forward to your wedding day.”

What are the current rules for weddings?


- Wedding ceremonies for up to 30 guests (including the couple, registrars or vicar, witnesses and photographers etc) resume in England from Saturday August 15. The 30-guest limit does not include the venue staff.

- Ceremonies should be kept as short as possible and social distancing of at least one metre between different households should be practised at all times.

- No food or drink should be consumed in the ceremony unless absolutely necessary.

- Group singing and playing of instruments (especially those that are blown into), should be avoided. Musical recordings are allowed in place of group singing.

- Spoken responses during the ceremony should not be in raised voices.

- Where the exchanging of rings is required hands should be washed before and afterwards and handled by as few people as possible.

- When an infant is involved a parent/guardian or member of the child’s household should hold them.


- Wedding receptions for up to 30 guests (again including the couple and outside staff such as photographers) resume from August 15.

- As of August 15, sit-down meals for up to 30 people are allowed subject to Covid-19 secure guidelines.

- Professional singing is allowed in certain circumstances and outdoors only. However indoor performances to a live audience are able to take place from August 15.

The above information is correct at the time of going to print but advice is constantly changing . For the latest advice see