Real ethical weddings

Laura and Andrew's Suffolk eco-wedding

A taste of Suffolk wedding

The couple: Laura and Andrew
Wedding date: June 2009
Venue and location: The Shire Hall, Woodbridge, and The Tithe Barn, Sproughton, Suffolk
Approx budget: £8,000

A leap of faith

Getting married wasn't something either of us had planned for long. In fact, the big question came about quite unexpectedly - and not from the groom! It was 29 February - a leap year and also a once-in-a-four-year chance for us ladies to pop the question.

Not one to let an opportunity go to waste, I just said, "Shall we get married?".  And luckily Andrew said yes. So opting for marriage and lifelong friendship, and despite our initial shock, we began working out what we had to do next as we really didn't have a clue.

The ring's the thing

Laura and Andrew's Suffolk wedding

A ring seemed like a good place to start. And so we had our first insight into the wedding industry. It was easy to get a bit cynical very quickly about the persuasiveness of suppliers to spend hideous amounts of money on seemingly small things.

The ring was no exception as we were told various statistics about how many ‘wage packets' people should spend on the ring.

Luckily though, we discovered Cred through Ethical Weddings. They offer Fairtrade Gold and conflict-free diamonds. Yes, they do command large prices, but there was at least the option of affordability.

It was also amazing to discover that many of our family and friends had no idea that you could buy fair trade and conflict-free jewellery and had rarely given any thought to where their jewellery comes from. In fact, Cred gave me the exact GPS co-ordinates of my new ring.

A pre-loved wedding dress

Next came the outfits. I wasn't keen on traipsing around Oxford Street and department stores trying on wedding dresses. Plus I wanted to wear a pre-loved wedding dress and cut down on costs while doing my bit for recycling. I watched lots of dresses on Ebay for a while, sending links to my mum every time I saw a dress I liked.

One day a beautiful dress came up made by the Italian designer Gritti Sposa. The dress originally had a price tag of over £2,500 but was on auction with a reserve price of £200. Looking carefully at the pictures (and being a bit hasty in my judgement) I bid on the dress and won!

The dress arrived a week later, albeit in a rather unflattering bin liner and box. I had never seen so much material and gorgeous Italian silk in my life. The fit was good and luckily the back had a corset tie so was adjustable. Even so, I lost a bit of weight before the wedding so my mum enlisted the help of her extremely talented Italian friend who worked miracles on the dress just weeks before the big day. I was really proud of the result and no one had a clue where it had come from!

Laura and Andrew's wedding - bride and groom with groomsmen and bridesmaids

Ethical bridesmaid dresses

Next were bridesmaids' dresses. This task was a bit more daunting as I had to please four ladies with their own tastes and keep costs under control. I found Brighton-based ethical fashion label Ciel which had three lovely green silk hemp dresses in their sale which came in under £250. One dress needed some adjustment, but on the whole the look was perfect for the occasion and I was glad the material was from an ethical source.

A taste of Suffolk

One of the biggest joys of our wedding day was the menu which I took great care over. As a self-professed food lover, I wanted everyone to enjoy a true taste of Suffolk and so I spent some time with my mum visiting farmshops and food halls in Suffolk looking for ideas.

The catering company had never done a Suffolk menu before but took the challenge on graciously. In fact, the caterer discovered some new ideas for himself like the white strawberries and raspberries which went perfectly with the desserts.

We sourced all the meat, fish and vegetables from Suffolk and I made sure that guests could read about it on the menus. The keg of Adnams ale went down a treat too (and lasted not very long). Although the food was one of the biggest costs, it was without a doubt a really important part of the day.

A place to wed

Wedding venue - The Tithe Barn in Suffolk

We decided to get married in Suffolk where I grew up. I have a big family and two elderly grandparents so it seemed like the right place to do it. We wanted as many people there as possible and I tried to cut down on travelling. We got married in the Shire Hall in a small market town called Woodbridge. It was an intimate venue and very much part of the local fabric of the town having been built in 1575 and housing a museum at the top.

The idea for the reception venue came from my Granddad who lives near to the Tithe Barn in Sproughton. The barn is owned by the local parish and so didn't command the huge prices that traditional wedding venues charge. All the same, it is a stunning building inside with its old beams and low-hanging lights.

The venue had recently received funding for a green refurb including massive amounts of insulation so it is now one of the most energy-efficient venues in Suffolk. It was also perfect for a barn dance, so we enlisted the help of a local band who got everyone on their feet enjoying themselves.

Laura and Andrew's wedding - the happy couple

A special day with a difference

We weren't squeaky green.

We tried our very best but there had to be a few concessions. For example, we had a car to transport us to the ceremony and reception as going by bicycle (our usual way of getting around) was just a bit far.

The main thing to remember is to try to make the day reflect your values as a couple and make your guests feel involved.

People loved our wedding because they felt part of the celebration, and even though it wasn't all glitz and glamour, our guests enjoyed relaxing and seeing us having fun too.

I wouldn't have wanted it any other way and I'm always full of happiness when I think back to the special day we had.

Top green tips

  • If there's a bit of travelling involved, hire a bus for your guests so they can get from A to B and enjoy themselves too.
  • For your flowers, see what grows locally. We had the help of a great friend and florist who took us out to gather some wild ivy (we had permission) plus she used some greenery from her garden. The flowers for the bouquet were grown locally in Leiston. We chose Alstroemerias in white and pink.
  • Explore the local cheeses and create a cheeseboard buffet for the evening guests. This went down really well at our wedding.
  • Get creative and make your own invitations. We kept ours simple using blank cards and printing ivy leaves on the front. We were going to have a website, but decided that there were still a lot of guests that didn't use the internet very much so sent out invitations instead.
  • We used Fairtrade chocolates from Ethical Superstore as favours. They were delicious!
  • I repaired a pearl necklace given to me by my grandmother, rather than buying a new one. Don't be afraid to recycle!

Laura is the founder of ecoescape - the website for eco-friendly holidays.