One-stop wonder

Laura Cartledge delves into the wedding world and finds everything from hay bales to prosecco stations.

A hatred for hay bales is an occupational hazard you might associate with farmers more than event stylists, but for the director of To Have and To Hire they are a real bugbear.
sara-to-have-to-hire-joanna-cleeve-9While Sara Ellis says ‘they are so messy and hard work to move around’, it could also be argued they are a strong indication of how much the event – and particularly wedding – industry has changed in recent years.
“I think it is so varied,” she agrees, “as a hire company you can’t pigeonhole yourself, if you only did vintage or rustic – they are trends and they will go.”
Sara’s West Chiltington-based business, which launched in November, certainly embraces the ‘more the merrier’ approach, something that will see it cater for a staggering 200 plus weddings this year.
Not that the scale of the success, or the stark contrast with her previous career as a computer programmer, has phased her at all.
“I am quite a bubbly person and I was sitting in an office in front of a computer.
“It was very much a place people had to concentrate so we couldn’t really talk.
“I just thought I don’t want to do this anymore, I want to be out there meeting people and using my best assets – so I thought let’s go do weddings and off I went,” she recalls.
to-have-and-to-hire-2“It was what I always wanted, I have always wanted to do something fun and you never get an unhappy bride.
“Plus for so many of them it is about the decoration, I love sitting with couples and talking about ideas.”
In a time dominated by digital pinboards, online research and endless options, Sara believes this personal touch is more important than ever.
“We have a showroom which has all the bits in and we have a warehouse which is packed, I always say it is important to see things,” she enthuses.
“You don’t know if you look at it online, things like height can come into play with centrepieces and then there’s quality and colour which is hard to tell from photographs.”
As well as offering inspiration, Sara and her team work hard to help couples refine their ideas – something all to-be-weds or have-been-weds will surely understand the value of.
“People will come in with lots of random ideas. Some come with a theme in mind – whether it is blue, or seaside or rustic,” she explains.
“But when you pin it down it is about what they want really, it is not a theme, we get that all together and then filter out what we don’t think will work.
sara-to-have-to-hire-joanna-cleeve-7“We try and concentrate it for them. We will talk about everything – table plan, guest book etc.
“We don’t expect them to get it from us but it is about putting those ideas in their minds and sometimes we will say something they haven’t thought about.”
A frequent example of the latter, reveals Sara, is easels to put their painstakingly crafted table plans on.
On the subject, she adds that ‘people are tending to move away’ from set seating and warns ‘but it doesn’t always work’.
“If you have a table for ten and don’t tell people where to sit you might get a couple who sit together, and then a single person who sits a chair away which means another couple can’t sit down,” she explains.
“So I do think it is better, unless you are going really informal, it also helps with catering and if you have members of the family that don’t get along.”
Another of Sara’s top tips is on the topic of colour themes, where she says ‘don’t match it completely, don’t try too hard’.
to-have-and-to-hire-1“Some people come in with colour swatches which can be frustrating as it is really hard to go that route.”
Sara’s experience and eye is also being put to good use by venues as, in addition to renting out her own field, she does event management for Crawley’s Tulley’s Farm and has another coming on board.
“People say I should pat myself on the back and say well done more, but I don’t,” she confesses, despite admitting ‘it is quite ridiculous what we have done in nine months’.
It is clear the key is that Sara doesn’t see it like work, something shown when asked what she enjoys most about what she does.
“When I get the emails back, or see the couple in tears on the day,” she replies, “it is so sweet and you just know you have made someone’s day.”

Sussex venue suggestions:
sara-to-have-to-hire-joanna-cleeve-11Cissbury – a country house and barns in the South Downs, Brookfield Barn near Horsham, and Two Woods Estate in Pulborough are Sara’s up and coming top three.
Of the latter she says: “It boasts 42 acres and they are working with the Woodland Trust, it has a cedar aisle that takes your breath away.”
Anyone keen to find out more should jot June 2017 in the diary, as Sara reveals she has plans for a Wed Fest at the site.

Trend prediction:
“I have noticed there is more glam coming in,” reveals Sara. “A lot of silver, gold and rose gold is definitely a thing. It is glam but it has a rustic twist, French shabby chic I would say.”

Top tip:
Sara says entertainment is the ‘one big thing I always talk to couples about’.
“Some have been to weddings and know what it is like hanging around when photos are being taken,” she admits.
“Our games are really popular, they are always out.
“It is about trying to occupy your guests as much as possible. Quirky things like pimp your own prosecco stations are great.”

More information about To Have and To Hire Weddings & Events, Barclays Farm Estate, West Chiltington, can be found at or by calling 01403 782888.


admin October 26, 2016 Culture and Events