Does a wedding venue have to be licensed? 

Business Diversification Into Weddings, Launching A New Wedding Venue

Business Diversification Into Weddings, Launching A New Wedding Venue

I’m asked if a wedding venue has to be licensed a LOT in initial conversations with people considering hosting weddings for the first time. 

Do we need to be licensed to host wedding ceremonies? 

And my answer is – not necessarily. 

Here are some facts to be aware of and some questions to ask yourself.

Please note I am writing this from the perspective of a venue based in England or Wales. Laws and requirements differ elsewhere. 

The Facts – Civil Ceremony License 

Around 75% of weddings in England and Wales are what we call civil weddings. This means that they are secular and non-religious and conducted by a Registrar team from your local Register Office for Births, Deaths and Marriages.  

That ceremony can either be at the Register Office or more popularly at a licensed venue. Since July 2022, already licensed venues have been able to conduct ceremonies anywhere in their grounds. This gives the scope for the outdoor exchange of vows. Something which prior to this date had restrictions around in that the couple marrying needed to be under a permanent roof structure. 

Obtaining a license is arranged through your local Superintendent Registrar’s office. It can take some time (allow several months) and it involves various paperwork, Fire Risk and Health & Safety Assessments. Some venues are not able to be licensed, notably places with religious imagery or connotation. 

The license is usually valid for 3 years at around the cost of £3,000.

But do we need a wedding license from the start when other costs may be more pressing for our wedding venue?

This is where it’s important to look further. 

Whilst a civil wedding is the modern “standard” for ceremony and has been for some years, it is not the ONLY choice for modern couples who very much will celebrate their wedding their way in 2023. 

This is where the style and atmosphere of your venue and your proposed ideal wedding client (it’s important to spend time getting very clear on who they are) will be more pivotal in considering than automatically jumping into applying for a license. 

Church Weddings 

Some more classic couples will be choosing a church wedding or wedding celebrated in another religious place of significance. 

Bespoke Wedding Ceremony 

An increasing number of couples want to celebrate their union very much in a bespoke and unique way. They are hiring independent celebrants to officiate their ceremony rather than choosing the Registrar route.  To get an idea of the range of celebrants available on the market take a look here.

Celebrant handfasting wedding ceremony law

Celebrant-Led Weddings

Currently celebrant-led weddings do not have the legal permission behind them so couples need to have a legal civil wedding (on the same or separate date) to their symbolic ceremony led by a celebrant.

More and more couples are choosing this. Why? Because by removing the legals from the actual day of celebration they are freeing up and allowing the possibility to really personalise their ceremony. The rituals, music, vows and much more, incorporate religious traditions or other beliefs into their ceremony if they wish. 

Civil wedding ceremony with celebrant

The Registrar-led wedding, whilst it allows a small amount of personalisation, is rather to a formula and dictated by a government-appointment official with limited option, time or ability to bespoke it. 

An independent celebrant will work very closely with the couple. Building a relationship with them. Getting to know them and designing something utterly individual for them. Often allowing them more time and attention on the day itself too.

When couples regularly put huge effort into customising the menu choice, the florals and styling, the stationery, the music and much more in creating their day, it makes sense that for many of them personalising and crafting their vows with care and attention is naturally expected. The sometimes functional legal process of a civil ceremony can be jarring to the celebratory tone. 

Woodland Weddings, Tipi Tents Weddings, Rustic DIY Weddings 

Many modern wedding locations particularly say tipi tent locations, woodland settings, farm venues and creative spaces will not necessarily find that the absence of a civil ceremony license is a problem or a barrier to booking for their target market couple, especially if the desired number of weddings is relatively low.  Whereas a mainstream venue with desires to host 100 weddings a year will undoubtedly find it a necessary feature (for now anyway).  

The Future of Wedding Ceremonies 

Significant steps towards law change have been taken during the past few years. With recommendations by The Law Commission to widen who can officiate a legal wedding to incorporate different faiths and beliefs. This is more reflective of society than in 1949 when the current Marriage Act we follow became law.   Whilst this is currently in the hands of government (and delayed) it looks likely that a wider group of officiants will be granted permission to legally marry couples in a more flexible selection of locations. Places where the license will sit with the celebrant rather than currently with the venue. Certainly one to keep on top of…

Mixed race bride and groom smiling

Other Licenses for New Wedding Venues 

Whilst I’ve focused here on the license to host wedding ceremonies, it’s very important that the other licenses and permissions are sought relevant to your location before embarking on promoting and delivering weddings.  You may need to consider Planning Permission and Change of Use, Permitted Development/28 day rule for temporary structures, Premises license and/or TENS (Temporary Events Notices) to cover live music and the sale of alcohol and more. 

It’s important to get the right advice in these areas. This is something that I guide clients through and signpost to the right process when we are working privately. 

Your Bible to Setting Up a Wedding Venue 

There is a lot to consider when setting up to host weddings on your land or in your property. Not only the licenses and permissions but how do you package and create a desirable wedding offer that works? What do couples want? How do you reach them and find them? How do you sell to them? And how does the industry work overall in terms of suppliers and other businesses to support you? 

For answers to this I have created a one-stop shop “bible” to guide your business planning and your strategy and in the early years. Getting you under the skin of this sector easily and quickly to avoid costly mistakes and press ahead with confidence and knowledge. 

You can find details and purchase Business Insights 2024 here

And for private and in-person consultancy, please do book in for a discovery call with me here.

Image credits:

Ceremonies With Bryanna // Don Benson Photography // Celebrant Yvonne Beck // Celebrant Carol Smith

To find celebrants in your area, go to the celebrant directory here.

Kelly is an events industry professional of 25 years having previously planned weddings (often 6-figure) for over 150 discerning global couples. 

A Wedding Venue Business Consultant to many of the UK’s finest Stately Homes, private houses and diversified farms, Kelly supports land and property owners to thrive by generating sustainable profit from hosting weddings.

A live-long learner and personal development devotee, she’s also a Master Coach & Success Coach to high-achievers.

Being endlessly curious about the power of the mind and neuroscience, she’s passionate about unlocking, unblocking and championing the potential of her fellow bold business-leader clients.

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