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Weddings are back across Warwickshire and brides have a new boutique to visit in Stratford

Dawn Francis runs Beautiful Brides from two rooms in her Shelbourne Road home in Stratford. Photo: Mark Williamson B48/8/21/4301. (50109469)
Dawn Francis runs Beautiful Brides from two rooms in her Shelbourne Road home in Stratford. Photo: Mark Williamson B48/8/21/4301. (50109469)

WEDDINGS are on the up, with bumper bookings at Stratford’s Henley Room from now until the end of the year.

A spokesman for Warwickshire County Council said business had picked up significantly since April, with the “ceremony season” expected to continue for longer than usual.

The spokesman said: “From 1st April to the end of July there have been 128 ceremonies at the Henley Room in Stratford, with 174 more planned for the rest of the year so far. With past postponements and restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, we expect a very busy and elongated ceremony season.”

And one business set to benefit from the uptick in ceremonies is Beautiful Brides, a new wedding dress boutique in Stratford opened recently by Dawn Francis.

She said: “I want to offer the wedding boutique experience and that’s important because choosing a dress and the wedding ceremony itself have changed because of Covid.

“It’s a peculiar trend at the moment – it’s almost like catch-up weddings due to everything being on hold.”

One reason Dawn puts an emphasis on the personal touch is that every bride is different, and choosing the right dress is not to be rushed: “I want brides to feel safe and relaxed when they come to see me and really enjoy the experience after all the uncertainty of Covid. Whether they buy the dresses I stock or not – and I hope they will – there are no time slots. They can take as long as they like. It’s all about being a beautiful bride.”

Dawn said the pandemic could have a hidden impact on wedding plans – beyond the obvious delays and restrictions – but she still aims to make a bride feel like a princess.

“A bride who chose her dress two or three years ago might look at things differently now. Her body might have changed, she might have had a baby, she doesn’t like the dress any more, a ball gown chosen for a church wedding won’t work in a registry office – all of these things have to be taken into consideration.”

Since opening the business, Dawn has found business has been steady – but she recently had to do a quick turnaround for one bride and groom in a big hurry.

“I got a phone call on a Saturday afternoon and the bride asked if I did drop-ins and was I open on Sunday because she was getting married the following Wednesday? Now Sunday is normally my day off but I opened up the business for her and her partner.

“She was French and he was German but because of his work commitments abroad and because it was their fifth attempt at getting married we had to move quickly. The tailor I use from Stratford is Alexandra Laycock, who is marvellous. The bride chose her dress, any adjustments were made and the couple married at Stratford Registry Office on the Wednesday,” said Dawn.

The new business is a very different career path from the one Dawn set out on. Born and bred in Stratford, educated at The Willows and Stratford High School, Dawn left education at 17.

“My first job was a chef at the Army and Navy mess in London. I then came back to Stratford and spent 25 years in childcare in local nurseries. While I absolutely loved the job, it was just becoming too much for my body lifting the children.

“I still had a mortgage and bills to pay and I wanted a job that was sociable, so I worked in the coffee shop at Hall’s Croft, Stratford, which again I absolutely loved. But last year I was put on furlough and made redundant in September.”

She started talking to people she knew were planning to get married. Some had a bigger budget than others but all of them valued the wedding boutique experience, especially if it was local and welcoming. Dawn realised there was a niche in the market which she could fill.

Dawn runs her business rom her bungalow on the outskirts of town. She and her daughters Emily, 29, and Laura, 36, transformed two large rooms into a fitting room and reception room, complete with a floral arch, and added some refurbished furniture.

The boutique was officially opened by Stratford Mayor Kevin Taylor, who said: “It was a real honour to be invited to open Beautiful Brides. There are always positives that can be found even through the most difficult times such as the pandemic.”

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