Church offers free weddings to cash-strapped couples

Colin and Vicky Todd on their wedding day at St Hild and St Helen's
Colin and Vicky Todd on their wedding day at St Hild and St Helen's
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As the recession threatens to halt holy matrimony, one church is giving couples the chance to tie the knot for free. Reporter Monica Turnbull found out more.

WITH the average cost of a UK wedding now costing around £22,000 it’s no wonder many couples are struggling.

Figures from Sunderland City Council reveal that in 2011, 27 weddings were cancelled in the with 21 so far ditched this year.

But St Hild and St Helen’s Church in Dawdon, Seaham, is running a service which aims to help people tie the knot – free weddings.

Marriage Matters launched in 2009 and offers everything from a tiara to the venue, flowers and photography. They have so far performed 39 marriages and already have 11 booked in for 2013.

Barbara Taylor, 49, wife of Pastor David Taylor and manager of the service, said: “Marriage is important. For years I have known couples who have lived together for a while then something happened and they wanted to have a nice wedding, but they couldn’t afford it.

“It is important to offer the service for them, but also when you get married you commit to each other and that is important.

“I don’t know about men, but for women I think it is vital to feel that someone is committed to you and will keep you safe, and that you are placing your trust in each other.

“As well as that, marriage is important for children.

“Government studies have shown that children are more content and happy in a marriage situation.

“As well as that it makes it harder to get out of a relationship. People can’t just walk away and say ‘I’m out.’”

Even with a free service, Mrs Taylor said four couples had pulled out of using Marriage Matters next year.

Barbara, who has been married for 29 years said: “They have petered off throughout the year.

“They still have to pay the registrar when they come to us.

“They still have the reception to pay for too and that costs a lot, and I think that is why they have been cancelling. We have rooms where people can have a reception, and we have put receptions on for them ourselves.

“We use money that comes in for the church if it’s ok with the bride and groom. It comes from donations.”

So far the church have provided eight receptions; three where they have cooked a three-course meal for the couple, and five where they have provided a buffet.

Barbara, whose son is getting married at the church next year said the Marriage Matters service can also provide table decorations for the community church’s room where the receptions are held.

St Hild and St Helen’s only criteria for couples is that both bride and groom attend a four part pre-nuptial counselling course, and wedding rehearsal.

They also like the couple to attend one of the Sunday services during the three weeks leading up to the wedding.

Barbara said she first had the idea for the service when she heard about something similar in Israel, where Americans were sending their used wedding clothes.

“I believed it was God telling me to run this service.

“We were in the process of moving into the church so I told the architect to put in a room where we can keep all the wedding stuff.

“The service was one of our pitches to the Church of England when we were looking to take over the church.”

Marriage Matters is run on the generosity of people who donate to the church – from wedding clothes, accessories to money.

Barbara said: “We can only offer what we have got, so any items that people can give us are always welcome.

“If anyone has anything they can donate we would appreciate them.”

To donate to the church call 07858 392843 or email

Twitter: @Monica_Turnbull