By Helen Draper 

Photos: Aimee Laoise Photography

Helen and Jon envisioned their special day as simple, beautiful and responsible. The couple, who met through martial arts, wished for an informal and fuss-free approach. Helen, a climate and sustainability professional, threw out the so-called rule book of traditional weddings and put sustainability at the top of their priorities. 

‘Once we discussed what we wanted from the day, aligned with personal, deep-felt values, everything came together easily,’ says Helen. 

The wedding industry has some way to go to clean up its act. With an average wedding burning enough carbon to run a house for a whole year, this couple found easy, elegant solutions.

Sustainable, natural settings

Travel is usually the top contributor to a wedding’s carbon footprint. Using Cardiff venues local to them and many of their guests meant that the couple slashed climate impacts from the very start. It also made it easy for Helen to work closely with local suppliers to source goods responsibly. 

They chose their venues spur of the moment. Sitting down for a drink in the gorgeous late summer sun at their favourite café, Coffi Co in Mermaid Quay, sparked the idea. The couple realised that a year to the day would be a Saturday, so they asked the friendly staff at Coffi Co. about availability, and the spot was secured there and then. Looking across the water they spotted the Norwegian Church twinkling in the sun – perfect for a relaxed afternoon ceremony, followed by a short walk to the evening reception at the café. 

‘Nature and romance go hand in hand,’ describes Helen. ‘We wanted to go big on styling a romantic setting, enhancing the beautiful waterside views offered by Cardiff Bay.’

The couple invited Cardiff-based Pink Peony Wedding and Event Design to style the Norwegian Church, enhancing its romantic stained-glass windows. Jan at Pink Peony crafted entranceways, a candle-lit aisle, table settings, and finishing touches. Single-use items were avoided by renting accessories such as umbrellas and a letter box as part of the styling package. This greener approach was cost-effective and hassle-free for the couple, as Pink Peony set everything up and took it all away afterwards.

Eco-friendly vision

The couple’s vision was detailed for guests on the couple’s wedding website, made with Hitched. Rather than cutting down trees and creating waste with written invitations, invites were issued through the website, which tracked responses and menu choices. ‘Our aim is for a sustainable wedding that doesn’t cost the earth,’ they wrote on the website. 

‘We saved a ton of wed-min (wedding admin!) by doing it this way,’ noted Helen. 

The couple consciously chose suppliers who understood their ambitions and contributed ideas about how to bring it all together. Nothing was too much hassle for Gareth at the Norwegian Church, who had a creative eye for detail. Suzanne Jaya Raghavan, the celebrant, was keen on the sustainability theme and was pivotal in bringing it to life. She took time to get to know the couple and referenced beautiful little personal details. ‘It was a very emotional, intimate and personal ceremony,’ recalls Jon.

Jon and Helen didn’t fancy the formality of a sit-down wedding breakfast either and instead followed the 4pm ceremony up with canapes and bubbles. Cardiff-based Classic Food Caterers were set the challenge of putting together a classy all-vegan menu and created a magnificent, varied selection. The couple had real fun looking for a delicious UK-made sparkling wine too. Working with Majestic Wine and taste testing with friends and family, they ended up settling on the crowd favourite – Balfour 1503, Kent.

Something borrowed

The idea of spending a lot of money on a dress that gets worn once (then has to be cleaned and stored) didn’t appeal to Helen – it seems unnecessary to add to the global fashion waste issue. Something Borrowed, based in South Wales, offers brides a sustainable, high-quality alternative through rental. Christie, the founder, worked really closely with Helen to ensure the perfect fit, so that the process of renting was effortless. 

The bride-to-be also managed to find a hand-crafted chapel-length veil on Vinted and as-new Monsoon Shoes on Thrift. ‘It wasn’t my intention to save quite so much money on my wedding outfit, but once I started to craft a designer look with a sustainable approach, it just sort of happened!’ exclaims Helen. 

Guests really got on board with the idea for their outfits too. The couple were inundated by friends and family boasting about their environmentally friendly finds. ‘It seemed to spark everyone’s imagination,’ noted Jon.

Special touches

Helen and her maid of honour travelled the short distance from St. David’s Hotel to the Norwegian Church ceremony on foot. Running into a hen party and being stopped by complete strangers had them arriving in fits of giggles. 

Jon and Helen, who have a six-year-old son, sought to make the day special for him too.  Kids, couples and families had lots of laughs on the rented white bouncy castle, while garden games from their home made up a play area. The personalised clay dish the couple bought for presenting the rings has become a treasured keepsake from the day in their house. 

Instead of a gift registry, Jon and Helen created a fundraiser. They shared a link, and put up a QR code on the day with the note: ‘We don’t need presents, just your presence.’ A heartfelt way to reduce unnecessary consumption, while also doing some social good. Generous guests donated a whopping £900 to causes closest to their hearts.

With an incredible day packed full of fun and joy, this couple showed that sustainability doesn’t have to be boring or involve sacrifice. If anything, it created something more beautiful and personal than they could have ever imagined. In more ways than one, they showed us that weddings don’t have to cost the earth.

Author WCS

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