March 23rd, 2018
by Alice Morris
After spending eight years following each other around the country for different jobs, Kevin, my all-time favourite person, finally proposed to me. I said ‘yes’, and we moved back home to Saddleworth, near Manchester.
While I’ve always known that weddings are a big deal, I massively underestimated the pressure placed on couples to put on an extravagant display. The wedding industry makes you feel like it’s essential to have lavish venues, massive cars, new outfits, huge bouquets, open top buses to move your guests, a gaggle of identically dressed friends to wait on you hand and foot…
The list goes on. In an era where more seems to signify better, weddings can be the pinnacle of over consumption. As someone who tries to consume both ethically and minimally, planning my big day soon began to feel like a daunting task, and the more I looked at the possibilities the more it seemed that people were missing the point. This was a celebration of Kevin and me and a chance to share our happiness with all our friends and family, not a display of our economic success.
However, as people kept reminding me, it’s a bride’s prerogative to do as she pleases on her big day and modern weddings can be anything you want them to be. So, deciding that I didn’t want our special day to break anyone’s budget or my ethical code, we set about hosting the most sustainable celebration we could.
Invitation to love
As anyone who takes an interest in minimising environmental impacts knows, there are often choices to be made between reducing virgin materials consumed, waste created and carbon emitted. It’s almost impossible to address all three, but by giving each stage of the wedding day some thought I hoped we could do a little bit of each.
I guessed that the greenest way to invite our guests would be to dash off a quick email or set up a WhatsApp group. However, the digital approach felt a bit informal – and besides, I couldn’t be sure that the message would get through to the oldies. So, instead of printing reams of paper invitations, many of which would be lost before the wedding day and all of which would end up in a bin, I decided to print the most important details on tea towels and send those out to the guests.
The towels could be used almost indefinitely, and as a bonus I felt that people might remember the specifics if they were staring at them every time they dried the dishes. Along with the towels I included a little packet of flower seeds and asked the guests to have a go at growing flowers to decorate the wedding venue, meaning they could enjoy them before the main event too. Then, we set out by bike to deliver the majority of the invitations by hand.
It seems to me that people are fixated on the need for new outfits. For some, it is socially unacceptable to be seen in the same garb on multiple occasions, and I’ve had many comments on the longevity of the blue spotty dress I’ve worn to every wedding and christening I’ve been to over the last four years. My first thought was that my old faithful would be the obvious choice for my wedding too, but after my mum spied a second hand white dress in our local charity shop I threw caution to the wind and snapped it up. After a few adjustments and the addition of a wild flower train, a flower crown made in Glastonbury, my late granny’s jewellery and my old but comfy cream high heels, I was ready to go.
With my own outfit sorted, I encouraged everyone else to wear something they already had or swap with a friend, but most importantly to be comfortable in what they chose. I advised the groomsmen that they didn’t need suits and let my one bridesmaid pick what she wanted. The majority of people embraced the unusual dress code and I saw lots of guests sporting old favourites, including three different people in dresses belonging to my mother and one friend in his smart sailing shorts – much to the amazement of the old ladies at church.
Trying to avoid buying new things meant that we spent many hours in second hand shops and family loft spaces hunting out preloved belongings that we could give a second lease of life. While rummaging through old and broken family jewellery with the intention of melting it down to make our rings, we came across my late grandma’s wedding ring, brought home from India during the war. Despite my granny being half my size the band was a perfect fit and following a quick polish it meant so much more to me than an off-the-shelf ring.
Wanting to minimise travel for as many people as possible, we kept the proceedings close to home. The service took place in the church I grew up attending, right across the road from my mum’s house, meaning that we could all walk up the hill and then on to the reception in the village hall via a picturesque photo spot.
Many of the guests lived locally and I asked them to arrive on foot, bringing comfy shoes for the 15 minute jaunt through the village. I also asked those guests coming from further afield to consider camping with us on the farm where we had pitched our tent, negating any need to use their cars on the day or call a cab to get them home.
Decorating the village hall ourselves allowed us to implement some festive waste prevention initiatives. To avoid all plastic tat, we made miles of bunting from old bed sheets, cut confetti from fallen leaves and stuck candles in empty wine bottles. We made 120 miniature wire chairs from champagne stoppers and brewed sloe gin for favours. We also hired ‘real’ table linen and a gang of local teenagers to collect and wash all the ‘real’ cutlery and crockery, avoiding the use of disposables.
The day before the wedding the whole family set out to gather up the flowers so lovingly grown by the guests, and to source more from generous neighbours with lovely gardens. We tied some flowers into bouquets, taped up small ones into button holes and thrust the rest haphazardly into jam jars and milk bottles, assigning my school friends the task of moving them from the church to the village hall after the ceremony so we could enjoy them all day.
The food of love
Feeding 120 guests with minimal impact was never going to be easy. We considered enforcing a vegetarian diet, but worried it wouldn’t go down well; we also looked at using surplus food, but felt that the unpredictability involved might add unneeded stress to the day. We also debated growing the food ourselves, but with a garden full of flowers that seemed a bit much.
In the end we tasked one of the groomsmen with rearing us a pig for a spit roast and we asked the caterer to buy only local and seasonal produce. Knowing that our supper was supporting the local economy as well as incurring very few food miles made it taste so much better. As it was washed down by beer brewed in the village and wine brought in the same car as guests travelling from Spain, everyone agreed it was delicious. Lastly, a party isn’t a party if you don’t have a cake, so my sister made us a nine tier show stopper which we fed to the guests later in the evening – along with cheese, it took the place of a buffet.
Happy ever after
With all our favourite people gathered together, wearing what they wanted and sharing a laid-back meal in a community space, the day was perfect. The sun even came out – unusual for Saddleworth. Importantly, I felt like I had been true to myself by not being swept up into a show of conspicuous consumption.
Of course, living in the countryside meant we were able to make use of local and community amenities that may not be available to city dwellers. But, my advice to environmentally minded brides-to-be would be to ignore all the things the wedding industry tells you are necessary to make your big day perfect. Rather, by focussing on the things you already have and the skills your guests can share, you can reduce the impacts of your wedding day while making it about the things that are really important.