Micro-wedding venue 'saved' by new Covid-19 restrictions

Couple who quit their jobs with the NHS and JP Morgan to run a micro-wedding venue claim their business has been ‘saved’ by Covid restrictions limiting numbers to 15 – and they’re booked up EVERY DAY this month

  • Joanna and Matthew Szczepura feared they may lose everything when Covid hit
  • After launching business in 2018, this year they had to cancel 60 weddings
  • Within hours of PM announcing latest restrictions cutting wedding numbers from 30 to 15, admitted phone has been ringing off the hook with enquiries
  • Brickhouse Vineyard, in Mamhead, Devon, is now booked up throughout October and every day between April and the end of September next year

Boris Johnson’s decision to slash the number of people allowed at weddings from 30 to 15 amid the Covid-19 pandemic was a devastating blow for thousands of couples and venues around Britain. 

But for one family, the ruling gave their intimate wedding venue business the much-needed boost they had been hoping for.

Former NHS manager Joanna Szczepura and husband Matthew, a former IT manager for JP Morgan, bought Grade Two listed Brickhouse in sleepy Mamhead, Devon in 2015.

Hidden away in the hills with its own three-acre vineyard, the couple initially hoped to make a living selling their home-grown wine to local bars and restaurants.

Former NHS manager Joanna Szczepura and husband Matthew, a former IT manager for JP Morgan, pictured with their two daughters Emilia, nine and Ellie, four, bought Grade Two listed Brickhouse in sleepy Mamhead, Devon in 2015

Brickhouse Vineyard is now fully booked for ‘micro-weddings’ every day through to the end of this month and between April and the end of September next year. Pictured: the converted round house used for ceremonies

But after discovering the considerable expense involved, they instead spent almost a year having the roundhouse outbuildings converted into a unique, intimate wedding venue.

After getting the business off the ground in 2018, Brickhouse Vineyard hosted 38 weddings and celebrations in 2019.

Then came the pandemic, which shattered their plans for 2020, leaving them with the difficult task of informing more than 60 couples they were unable to host their big day.

But within hours of the PM cutting wedding groups to just 15 people, the phone started ringing off the hook and online bookings poured in.

Now they are fully booked for ‘micro-weddings’ every day through to the end of this month and between April and the end of September next year. The only availability they have left in 2021 is from October onwards.


The couple ploughed around £200,000 into renovating the 19th century round house – previously a ‘horse gin’, short for horse engine, where horses would walk around in circles powering a grain-threshing machine in the adjacent barn (pictured before and after) – walled garden and grounds

Incredibly they are also taking bookings now for 2022, mostly for smaller wedding parties.

Mother-of-two Joanna, 47, told FEMAIL: ‘We have always catered for affordable, intimate weddings and we were doing well before Covid-19.

‘As micro weddings are our speciality, more couples are turning to us, because they know they will get a very special ceremony and celebration.

We’re of course happy to also host larger events when the Government allows them.

‘We’ve had ceremonies where only the bride and groom are coming, so Matthew and I have had to be the witnesses.

Mother-of-two Joanna, 47, pictured with husband Matthew, told FEMAIL: ‘We have always catered for affordable, intimate weddings and we were doing well before Covid-19. As micro weddings are our speciality, more couples are turning to us, because they know they will get a very special ceremony and celebration’

‘With everything that is happening because of Covid-19, we were worried it might be a long time before we were busy again.’

Joanna admitted that the past six months have been incredibly tough for them, as their home is also on the site of their business. 

‘We’ve had sleepless nights, wondering how we were going to survive, and like so many, we had no idea when it was going to get better,’ she said.

‘We are so fortunate everything has worked in this way. So many businesses are going under right now, including ones that people have owned and run for years, businesses that people have sweated blood and tears to keep alive.

‘Our couples are telling us how they’re having to break the news to friends and family that they can’t be with them on their big day, which is so sad.

Joanna admitted that the past six months have been incredibly tough for them, as their home is also on the site of their business (pictured during its development)

‘But we are helping to make their celebrations as special as possible, through little personal touches such as spacing out the furniture so their ceremonies feel more full, through to helping them with Zoom calls so they can have friends and family online to see their first dance.

‘Last year we had weddings where people flew in from all over the world. It’s such a shame that we don’t know when that will happen again.’

Joanna and Matthew quit their jobs in London after his parents spotted Brickhouse for sale.

The couple, who met at a British Military Fitness Christmas Party in 2006, viewed it, fell in love with the potential it boasted, and made an offer which was accepted.

They sold their property in the capital, quit the ‘rat race’, spent £950,000 on Brickhouse and moved down with daughters Emilia, nine and Ellie, four.

In May 2018 Brickhouse Vineyard opened as a wedding venue. That year they had two elopement weddings, with Joanna and Matthew witnessing the marriages and joining the happy couple for a glass of homemade wine after their nuptials

Initially they hoped to maximise the potential of the property’s vineyard but had to bin that plan when they realised sky high production costs would leave them with little profit.

Instead Joanna, who always yearned to own a wedding venue, persuaded Matthew to help her make her dream come true.

The couple ploughed around £200,000 into renovating the 19th century round house – previously a ‘horse gin’, short for horse engine, where horses would walk around in circles powering a grain-threshing machine in the adjacent barn – walled garden and grounds.  

It took the couple more than a year just to get planning permission to convert it.

While work was being carried out to renovate the round house the couple shelled out another £100,000 on landscaping the terrace.

Initially the couple hoped to maximise the potential of the property’s vineyard but had to bin that plan when they realised sky high production costs would leave them with little profit. Now all brides, grooms and their guests are served wine – Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir rose – from the smaller garden vineyard

Finally, in May 2018 Brickhouse Vineyard opened as a wedding venue.

That year they had two elopement weddings, with Joanna and Matthew witnessing the marriages and joining the happy couple for a glass of homemade wine after their nuptials.

Now all brides, grooms and their guests are served wine – Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir rose – from the garden vineyard.

The couple are planning to make the venue more self-sufficient by 2024, producing meat and vegetables on their land too.

Joanna added: ‘Initially when we began in 2016, just to produce a bottle of wine was going to cost us about £10.

‘That meant if you wanted to sell it you would have to charge at least £15 to make a good profit, which is too expensive.

The couple are planning to make the venue more self-sufficient by 2024, producing meat and vegetables on their land too

‘For some reason I had always wanted to have a wedding venue, and I ended up walking around looking at it all thinking, “What a beautiful venue this would make”.

‘We had a few meetings with local wedding consultants, and they all confirmed it was the perfect location for a wedding venue.’

She added: ‘Learning how to run a vineyard was the toughest part. It was a steep learning curve. Matthew learned from our consultant, and just from reading about it and doing it.

‘I enrolled on wine courses with the International Wine and Spirit Society to learn about wine and food pairing.

Prices for Brickhouse Vineyard range from £800 for an elopement, to between £6,000 – £7,000 for a full day wedding in the high season

‘We are really proud of the Brickhouse Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc which is unusual for this country because it requires quite a long ripening season with a lot of sun towards the end of the season, which we don’t have in the UK.’

Brickhouse Vineyard now hosts three types of weddings, including a full day  traditional format, as well as elopement weddings for couples who just want to get away and tie the knot. There is also the option for an 

Prices range from £800 for an elopement, to between £6,000 – £7,000 for a full day wedding in the high season. Visit https://www.brickhousevineyard.co.uk/ for more information. 

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