Saturday, 13 December 2008

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Info on ethical weddings, eco-weddings, green weddings...

Over the eighteen months or so I've been planning our wedding and writing this blog, I've come across innumerable articles, websites and groups offering insights, advice and perspectives on how to plan weddings and how to introduce ethics into that process.
This post tries to list some of those I found most useful.
Firstly, there are loads of articles just giving advice on some of the main issues to keep an eye out for. Friends of the Earth's lifestyle section's feature lists specific bits of the wedding process – like rings, presents, confetti and honeymoons – where ethical options are easy to find. Not strictly about ethics, the 'Planning a Wedding' page of the Guardian's money website is useful because it has lots of features on the eye-popping cost of many weddings and how to cut it – which often means reducing consumption and consumerism as well, which is definitely a good thing. Wales Online did a general feature on eco-weddings, as did ethical shopping website and has a number of features on ways of making your big day a bit more environmentally friendly or doing some good in majority world countries alongside having a wonderful time yourself. Most mainstream wedding sites or magazines have been fairly clueless on the idea that a wedding might be about more than spending as much money as you possibly can on the biggest frock ever, but did have a small article with some handy links.
Interview articles can be a great help, because they often include real-life accounts of how people went about finding and sourcing ethical supplies for their weddings. Grown Up Green interviewed Katie and Jamie Fewings of the Ethical Wedding directory, while their website has whole collection of 'real ethical weddings' to take inspiration from. I'm also going to flag up my own interviews for a Big Issue Cymru feature on green weddings. And there are some good blogs out there giving individual accounts of planning ethical weddings, including A Low Impact Wedding, the collection of blogs on, My Ethical Wedding and Having a quick search on hosts like Blogspot and Wordpress will find up-to-date and new blogs.
Katie Fewings' website is also a terrific and increasingly comprehensive range of links and features on everything from wooden rings to making your own wedding favours, green venues to organic chocolate cakes....

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Bicycle weddings (1)

A while back I posted requests for stories about weddings that incorporated bikes on various Facebook bicycling groups. I've got a bunch of fun tales stashed somewhere that I need to post, but here's a very belated one that just came in from a gentleman called Albert:
"I had a post ride coffee with a guy in Tucson, Arizona who told me he had his wedding midway through a ride. He, his bride and the wedding party (minister included) began their ride at the foot of Mount Lemmon in Tucson. Approximately 26 miles later at the summit (7-8,000 foot elevation gain) they exchanged their vows. Their cycling jerseys were custom made as tux and dress. Their rings? Titanium of course. Very dangerous by the way as trauma and swelling of the finger necessitates removal of the ring. Well, with a titanium ring? That means removal of the finger as well. But I digress."

Friday, 31 October 2008

The Honeymoon is Over (pt 2: food)

Aaagh yes, food. Spain, Portugal and France not being famous for the veggie-friendliness of their cuisine. Although OA and I are not currently the most observant of veggies and have been known to lapse into what OA refers to an fish-n-chipocrisy.
Actually, almost any decent-sized city in any of these countries shouldn't present too much of a problem (although I wouldn't fancy trying to be vegan on a trip like this). Granted, we ate quite a lot of felafel. And granted, most of it wasn't particularly great felafel, particularly the undercooked monstrosity served by a sniggering would-be thief at a place called something like Asteria on the tourist-trap Rue de la Huchette in Paris, and that at Al-Andalus in Granada, where the felafels were re-heated in a microwave and where the guy putting the pitas together said, when I pointed out that he'd just ladled mayonaise sauce instead of humus all over everything, "I'm just a waiter not a chef." Which raises the questions of a) why he was doing the cooking then and b) why this place is recommended in the Lonely Planet guide - the answer to that being the Granada and Cordoba sections of the Lonely Planet guide to Andalucia are bobbins...
But when we weren't eating cheap on dodgy felafel or on various types of cheese and/or spinach pastries in various bakeries, we had some lovely food and drink in various small restaurants along the way.
First up was Restaurante Arrayanes in Granada, just off the main street of teashops in the touristy bit of the picturesque old quarter of the Albayzin. Run by a Moroccan Berber called Mustafa who seems to switch between half a dozen different languages with no visible effort, it has a small veggie offering, but the vegetarian cous cous and the Middle Eastern starters were superb (as were the fish kebabs, for the sinners amongst us).
Another good place to eat in Granada, whose name I unfortunately failed to take down, was the first bar/restaurant on the Campo del Principe in the Realejo if you are coming up from Calle Molinos. A number of eateries in Granada do a bizarre but lovely dish consisting of tempura-style slices of aubergine, crisp-fried and then drizzled with dark honey or something like pomegranate molasses. This place also did a great, if slightly weird, spinach pie with pineapple in it.
Restaurante Ruta del Azafran also did some great salads, as well as offering a great view of the Alhambra from its position as one of a row of tapas bars and restaurants on the Paseo de los Tristes. But more importantly for me (sinning again) it introduced me to the lovely Granada wines of the Bodega Barranco Oscuro - gorgeous rich ripe reds which unfortunately I have yet to find a UK stockist for. If I'd known that I'd have lugged more than one measly bottle home with me (or made OA lug a couple instead).
On to Cordoba, which was frankly and depressingly a bit of a tourist trap despite the breathtaking beauty of the Mesquita (as long as you go first thing in the morning when it's free and tour groups aren't allowed in - but the rubbish Lonely Planet won't tell you that, or not anywhere you'd notice it) but where there were lots of places selling tortilla de patatas - Spanish omelette - to keep any empty corners of stomach well filled.
Seville, however, was just great. I could stay there for weeks and just eat. And the writer of this section of the guidebook did seem to have actually visited some of the places she was talking about so some of the recommendations actually existed/bore some resemblance to the descriptions.
Firstly, for bog-standard but filling pizza in a touristy but very charming setting (a renovated hammam) was Restaurante San Marco, in the heart of the tourist district of Barrio de Santa Cruz. For excellent pizza and pasta but lousy (rude, by turns brusque and slow) service, Ristorante Cosa Nostra on Calle del Betis, a picturesque street with a number of bars where you can have a pre- or post- dinner drink watching the bats catching midges over the mighty river Guadalquivir.
And for fab Cuban food with delightful service, Habanita, on a tiny side street called Callejon Golfo on the Centro area of town. This place knows its vegan from its vegetarian and needy vegans could indeed eat different and very reasonably-priced and delicious things there every meal for about a week, if they needed. The most interesting bit of the menu was the Cuban food, which included standards like fried yucca and (very good) black beans with rice, but also featured some fantastic savoury banana balls in tomato sauce (we ordered a second dish of these, and got an extra one for our enthusiasm). But un-Latino-mooded veggies could go for a range of tofu, vegetable or seitan casseroles, pies and bakes.
And now I've run out of steam, so I'll do Lisbon, Madrid and Paris another day...

Monday, 27 October 2008

The Honeymoon is Over (pt 1: transport)

Well, the attempt at a (reasonably) low-impact honeymoon is done, with varying degrees of success.
My number one Top Tip for trans-European train travel is now Break The Journey Each Way. Ie, if you don't leave in the south of England and therefore can't hop on a morning Eurostar, leaving lots of time to catch your sleeper on to Italy, Spain etc, then the precariousness of train times can make it well worthwhile factoring some extra give into your itineraries, whether it's a night in London or Paris.
The sorry tale behind this bitter comment is partly due to the Eurotunnel fire in September, which is of course a pretty extraordinary circumstance. Also, being a Strange Person who started off her honeymoon sans new husband and with a friend, going on a writing course, I was tied into more pressing timetables than on most holidays. But when someone decided to end their life by jumping onto the fast live rail between Watford and Harrow & Wealdstone stations, holding us up for two hours, I was somewhat split between sorrow that somebody needed to finish it this way, pity for the poor train drivers who have to live with their memories of suicides, and cuticle-chewing, hair-pulling stress at the knowledge that we were going to miss not only our Eurostar to Paris but also the connecting sleeper down to Madrid. And that waiting for a train to Madrid next morning was going to mean that we missed the start of the writing course. And the Eurostar staff at St Pancras could have more polite and helpful too...
So, ashamed and angry as I am to admit it, we ended up on plane to Malaga next morning, followed by a bus up to Granada. And I promised myself that I will never put myself in that situation again.
Getting around Andalucia by coach and train was a joy, and an illustration of how punctual and comfortable well-run public transport can be. The train system, in particular, was a delight, especially the contrast between the amount of legroom available on Spanish trains compared with the battery-chicken conditions of the vile Virgin Pendolino. Booking coaches from the UK via Alsa, a subsidiary of National Express, was a doddle, and the advance-purchase machines for their tickets in most Spanish coach stations were also easy to use. Renfe, the Spanish train network, was less user-friendly for advance purchases, but helpful advice is available on
The overnight coach from Lisbon to Madrid, booked via Eurolines, was ok and surprisingly comfortable. And the sleeper from Madrid up to Paris, with tickets bought direct from SNCF after RailEurope's website decided to be awkward, was extremely comfortable for short-arsed me, although OA's height was a bit much for the berths. We met a great family from Aberdeen who were doing the through journey from the south of Spain to the north of Scotland in one go, and having done a similar trek between Aberdeen and Italy the previous year were impressively sanguine about it - and gave two fingers to people who claim that distance train travel with kids is impossible. Although obviously it helps when your son is happy to sit and read or actually have conversations with people around him, rather than drive fellow passengers up the wall with nasty noisy bits of technology. Fortunately we'd got a couple of days in Paris on the way home, so there were no nail-biting moments about whether we'd catch our trains (just horror at the continued inadequacy of the facilities and staffing at the Eurostar terminal at Gare du Nord, where the vast queues nearly left OA standing on the platform watching the train vanish England-wards).

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

(un)Ethical flowers

Article on labour rights abuses in the flower industry - but with some links to ethical suppliers, whether fair trade or local/organic.

Thursday, 18 September 2008


Who needs some big stodgy fruitcake covered in sickly icing when you can walk into On the Eighth Day, Manchester's venerable ethical food co-operative, and order 110 chocolate brownies (vegan ones, so that they can serve as pudding for the poor vegans who won't be getting their hands on the chocolate torte from the main meal)?
'Nuff said.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Venue ahoy!

Well, we have a venue, which is a profound relief. Actually we've had a venue for a bit, but I've not had time to get on this blog, what with work and more work and trying to organise a wedding and cope with Mr Climate Change (the groom's) various plans and plots (see, for instance,
So, having looked through the many nice places that pop up on a Google search for things like wedding venue + Manchester, a few miserable days were spent finding that most people book these places up months, if not years, in advance. Add to that the fact that most of them charge eye-watering amounts just for the venue, before you even get onto the food, and the prospects were lookign a bit depressing. Various people made various kind suggestions, most of which drew a blank (too busy, too small, too... meatie).
This, however, illustrates the power of the Google search term. Knock the word 'wedding' out and suddenly whole new horizons opened up. And I was reminded of Manchester Bridge Club. Which might sound a bit posh and fusty, but which we'd used for benefit events before, for the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture and Windows for Peace. It's affordable, the right size, has a cash bar so I don't need to faff around thinking about drinks and glasses for the evening, and doesn't do catering so I can keep the independent, veggie-friendly, ethical caterers I'd started out with.
Breathe a long sigh of relief...
And now I also have a lovely double-decker bus, courtesy of Oxford Road stalwarts Finglands, to carry everyone from the registry office to the reception, hopefully deterring a few cars from the city centre.
Now, cake.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Something has to go right sometime

Well, wedding in 7 weeks and still no venue. From having been insanely stressed about it I have now reached a strange calm stage - I'm not sure if this is some kind of Zen acceptance that something will work out, one way or another, or whether I'm just in a state of past-hysterical denial. Either way I'm sure it'll all be FINE (maybe). Obviously by now lots of places are booked up (who are all these people getting hitched in September? I thought everyone was meant to do this in June) and unfortunately on that day Lancashire Cricket Club already has 3 weddings and 2 parties booked, so OA and his England-supporting best man won't be able to trade speech insults in view of the pitch, but I think I've now reached the stage of thinking - shall we say - creatively.
I've now finished washing the last of the oak & elder champagne bottles which were covered in shards of glass from those muppets at Amtrak smashing a bunch of them. So my diminutive living room is now full of cardboard boxes, partly clearing-out stuff to take to the Wesley for my colleague Finn and partly cases of Scottish bubbly.
And as of yesterday I have the rings. Again, for a combination of ethics and cost, we've gone for second hand. Both very plain gold bands, they came from a jeweller in central Manchester, Arthur Kay on the corner of St Ann's Square, well known for its big old sign (I guess there since it was set up in 1897) proclaiming that they sell wedding bands by weight only. No longer entirely true, but for delightfully reasonable prices we now have a standard gold band for OA and a lovely little rose gold band, hallmarked Birmingham 1871, for me. And for a similar price or less than it would have cost to get something from Argos...
And the REALLY important bit is proceeding nicely, ie the honeymoon. Train tickets ahoy - we've now at least got them sorted between Manchester and Madrid and back, although it's amazing to find that tickets like those for the Paris-Madrid sleepers are already booking up now - hopefully a sign that people are taking up train instead of air travel within Europe. The Morocco plan has probably fallen by the wayside; I would want to rush around Morocco looking at STUFF and indulging my latent archaeologist's tendency to want to stare intently at bits of tile and sandy bricks and bits of discoloured earth, trying to find out their radiocarbon date or what civilisation put them there. OA is not a big fan of this kind of stuff. So, tied as we are to starting in south-western Spain by other commitments, it looks like more of a Spain/Portugal job, with lots of opportunities for lying around being very lazy, reading fat books, eating lovely food and drinking nice local wine. I haven't yet sussed out how to book tickets for the Seville-Faro bus (although I'm sure further investigation on the wonderful will enlighten me), but I do know that there is a sleeper back from Lisbon to Madrid, and OA speaks Portuguese from his volunteering days in Angola and Mozambique, so if necessary he'll be drafted in on that.
So. Wedding music. Am I allowed Leonard Cohen's Song of the French Partisan, or is that too political/depressing?

Friday, 11 July 2008

Fizz fuss

Well, the fizz is here - a very generous gift from Helen, my Dad's wife.
As I said some month ago here, it's come from Cairn o'Mhor, who make marvellous Scottish fruit wines - not just the thick, sweet dark fruit wines, but lovely dry bubbly oak & elder - a locally-produced, interesting alternative to champagne and with lots of lovely overtones of the British countryside.
Getting it across all that picturesque British landscape, however, involves the wonderful world of delivery companies. Now, this is where I cease to be able to engage with the ethics and just get stressed about which companies are most likely to lose/break my stuff. In my fairly extensive experience of online shopping, DPD are great, and actually have that rare thing, an online tracking system that works. Home Delivery Network aren't bad. I've never had stuff from UPS, I think, and hope this remains true as both it and the horribly chaotic DHL have fairly dire corporate ethical records as well.
But unfortunately Cairn O'Mhor use Amtrak, which is without doubt the worst of the pack. They give you 2 shots at being in (because obviously we're still in the 1950s and a good little housewife is always home) and then they charge you for any subsequent deliveries. The other option is that you can go and collect it from their depot - which, in the case of Manchester is out in an industrial estate on the very far outskirts of the city. So, obviously you have to have a car - especially if you're lugging 4 cases of wine. And if you want it redelivering, you, the intended recipient of the parcel, can whistle for it - for some bizarre reason the sender has to arrange this. So more hassle for the poor lovely and very helpful Donna at Cairn o'Mhor.
But, after a merry-go-round of phone calls and emails, the wine is here - with 2 bottles broken, all the other boxes soaked, and interesting little cuts appearing on my arm and hand. The boxes are all in my (very small) living room, with various makeshift protection devices to make sure the cats don't clamber all over them and get covered in glass snicks too.
Maybe I need to go and open one of those bottles, just for a little taste...

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Bah humbug

Obviously, with a nice caterer and a daftly cheap and lovely dress and everything looking like it was well on the way to being sorted, something had to go wrong. No, the groom hasn't high-tailed it back to the Antipodes, which I suppose I must be thankful for. But OA and I no longer have a venue for anything but the minimal little 20-minute bit at the registry office.
Of course, the registry office bit is the most important and significant bit and all that - but it was also the easiest to organise. And now, thanks to Birch Community Centre's architects and their unpredictable ways with wet concrete, I need to find a new hall, function room or whatever it is, within our meagre budget, ideally with a kitchen that the caterers can use and even more ideally with a cash bar. And none of the ones I can think of are returning my calls...
Gretna has never looked so appealing.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

More green weddings in the press

Just a quick one - here's an article did for Big Issue Cymru at the start of 2008, with interviews and quotes from Rebecca and Hugh Whately (as featured here in January 2008) and also from Katie Fewings, founder of

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Manchester Evening News tips for an ethical wedding

My local paper, the Manchester Evening News, ran a green weddings piece - see the post below. Here's the 'top tips' and 'eco-chic made easy' sections which weren't reproduced in the main article.

Top tips to going ethical on your big day
- go green with your accessories, like charm bracelets from [Fair Trade retailer] Traidcraft
- Green gifts [like a photo frame, also from Traidcraft] can be chic as well as sustainable
- Eat, drink and be merry - with a healthy conscience - with a Fairtrade wine mixed case from Traidcraft
- Instead of favours on the tables, why not do something different and donate the money through Oxfam's Unwrapped - the money you spend on sweets for each guest could pay for a goat for a nomadic family

Eco-chic made easy for brides
Liz Taylor (yes, really) of TLC has these top tips to getting a bit of eco chic as you walk up the aisle:
- stay local - choose a venue as close to home as possible to reduce car travel;
- send invitations by email - or printed locally on recycled card using vegetable-based inks;
- source food and drink locally where possible - also look at local brews or high-quality English wine instead of champagne [for some suggestions, see the Fizz section of this blog];
- go vintage with your wedding dress to tick that recycled box;
- get guests to join in the green theme by getting the train to the venue instead of driving.

On this last point, OA and I are trying to make it easier for guests to get to our wedding by public transport. One of the ways we're doing that is to hire a double-decker bus to get everyone from the registry office in Manchester city centre out to the community centre where we're having the reception - so no-one has an excuse to bring a car to get from one to the other (although we figure it's only fair to make exceptions for my 93-year-old Gran and the aunt and uncle bringing her from North Wales, and one set of friends who have two children under 3 to transport... we're nothing if not reasonable ;-))

Green brides in the press

This is something that I need to do a proper trawl of, but the number of articles about green weddings seems to be growing at a rate of knots. Even the notoriously eco-sceptic Manchester Evenings News has managed to run one. The online version misses out the tips section, which is a pity because it's quite good, but there's nothing in it that isn't somewhere in this blog...

Monday, 7 April 2008

The extra benefits of wedding presents...

Well, the side benefits of ethical weddings are lovely sometimes...
I finally managed to get as far as sending out our invitations the other day, and got a very quick response from OA's second cousin Diana, who sent a very generous cheque with instructions to spend part of it on our honeymoon and part on one of the charities we picked for donations instead of gifts, from those who felt so inclined. This was the Freedom Theatre in Jenin, a city in the North of the West Bank which has been very hard hit by the Israeli military occupation. The Theatre, which was founded by an Israeli woman called Arna, provides an amazing outlet for young people living in the refugee camp of Jenin to express themselves and learn artistic and multimedia skills.
Having visited the Freedom Theatre last January and been very impressed and moved by the young people who showed us round and let us look in on rehearsals, it occurred to me that it might be nice for them to know that we'd done this, and the lovely message I got back included these words:
"Dear Sarah, thank you very much for this wonderful and unexpected sign of solidarity and support. And our united congratulations on your upcoming marriage!"
Which gives me a warmer glow and a tearier eye than any toaster is likely to manage...

Friday, 4 April 2008


Looks like more and more ethical companies are getting in on the wedding theme. Latest are the lovely GreenKnickers. Having worked their way through global warming pants that change colour with your body heat, suggestive slogans about organics, and padded cycling knickers, they're now introducing special Wedding knickers which incorporate your something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue, all into one pair of pants. Their knickers are beautifully made and very comfy, although several of my pairs are still in their boxes coz somehow they seem too nice to wear. The wedding knickers are available at the end of April, but you can reserve a pair via

Saturday, 29 March 2008


Having acquired my ridiculously low-budget wedding dress, a common response from my mates (especially Women of the Female Persuasion) has been along the lines of: "well that means you can spend loads on the shoes then!"
And a new range from Izzy Lane makes that very tempting. This little ethical, vegetarian company, based in Yorkshire, started off making classically chic tweedy suits and knits, mainly from wool sourced from a flock of rescued sheep. But this year they've branched out into shoes, all Vegetarian Society approved and handmade by a 'traditional cobbler in the East End of London.' There's leather-look ones and some quite traditionally wedding-y cream coloured ones in linen or Fairtrade organic cotton canvas. Yummm...

Friday, 22 February 2008

Honeymoons and cycle rickshaws

On the theme of low CO2 weddings that involve cycle rickshaws, I came across a great picture on of a couple being whisked off on a none-flying honeymoon (destination unspecified) by a very smartly dressed cyclist... promotes alternatives to flying and you can use it to sign up to a pledge not to fly, which has 2 different levels - no flying at all ('Gold') and no recreational flying, for those who might not be able to get out of it for work ('silver'). Somewhere further down this blog I've already talked about our plans for a honeymoon in Morocco, travelling by train, but I've got to put in a quick plug for Venice, since it's such a romantic destination and flying there is just madness... there is no way to arrive in Venice that beats the sleeper from Paris, pulling in across the lagoon in the morning after dawn rising as you approach through the countryside of Northern Italy...

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

The dress!

Haha! In a stroke of ridiculous good luck, I've managed to prove the point that an ethical wedding needn't be an expensive one. Indeed, it's just gotten very, very affordable in at least one respect. Totally by chance, I've found my dress, and it cost a tenner in a second-hand shop on Oldham St in Manchester...
I was never really a candidate for traditional white. Firstly, I'm surprised enough to find myself getting married in the first place, and envisaging myself in the full white works is just further than my imagination can stretch. Secondly, I really don't look that good in white. Thirdly, it would be mildly fraudulent...
I'm not inherently opposed to white wedding dresses. My mate Liz (interviewed below), had a gorgeous one that fit her kind of classic, 50s style fantastically. But at five foot nothing and a half, I need to be careful with styles that might make me look even shorter than I am (especially when Overgrown Antipodean is six foot four and we already look like we're from different species and will have the daftest wedding photos anyway). So any of your frothy white numbers would be out, since they do tend to make people my height look like a snowdrift. And so many meringues are just reallt quite horrible - especially, however, the 80s-style peach satin one I walked past in, I think, Bride Be Lovely a few weeks back.
There are, of course, some great ethical wedding dress makers nowadays, especially Conscious Elegance,, which does a range of classic wedding gowns, made to measure from environmentally sound fabrics. Or there are places like Oxfam, which sells wedding dresses for charity - a bit hit or miss, as they're dependent on donations, but there was an absolutely gorgeous antique one on their website recently for a ridiculously reasonable price (go to the website, click on 'shop' and then search the 'women's' section). Or ethical designer companies like Enamore or Ciel do lovely frocks for a less traditional look.
So, without risking Bad Luck (this whole wedding thing has made me bizarrely superstitious), we have a lovely little fitted dress, simple cut, in a kind of patterned satiny finish and a warm goldish shade that is very forgiving on my fair-to-washed-out sort of complexion. It's the kind of thing that will look classy for the day but I can still dance in it in the evening, and it will make a great party frock thereafter.
And all for a tenner...

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Grub's up

Well, Operation Wedding has commenced in earnest now. I've been happily toodling along in 'I'm getting married next year, that's ages away' mode. Now I'm in 'Ohmigod I'm getting married in September, and now it's February, I'd better actually organise something!' mode. And it's amazing how early stuff gets booked up...
So, with some of the registry office, legalistic bits on the go, I've at least now got my caterers booked, and am somewhere close to a venue. The caterers, though, I'm pretty pleased with. OA and I decided pretty early on that we want a vegetarian meal, as although we're not the world's strictest veggies we're certainly not too happy about the idea of spending money on meat for our guests when it's something that for various resource-use and cruelty reasons we're not comfortable with in an industrialised society (for more info on the resource impacts of producing meat on a large scale, including pollution and contributions to climate change, see
Green Plate, a small Manchester catering company, fit the bill very nicely. They're not exclusively vegetarian, so if we decide that asking my 90-odd year old Gran to eat something that's not only vegetarian but probably North African/Mediterranean in style, when she's never even eaten a curry before, might be too much, then we can still ask for a small ham salad. They're aware of issues like local sourcing and organics, but also of price, which means that if we've got room in the budget we can ask them to include more organic and fair trade food, whilst knowing that even if we have to keep the budget tight they'll be looking out for this kind of thing. And they're based only a mile or two away and run a cafe in a local health centre, which means that feel like they're on our turf. Which is nice.
Now I'm really looking forward to getting those menus...

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Burma's rubies

The scandal over 'blood diamonds' and the link between diamond mining and trading and bloody wars in Africa, including those where young children are used as cannon fodder, provoked at least some reaction from the international community. The Kimberley Process may be an inadequate response, and some of the biggest suppliers of diamonds to the world market may still be finding ways to get round ethical standards, but at least people are starting to know that they need to ask questions about where gems are from.
Human Rights Watch now also has a good backgrounder on rubies, the majority of which come from the famously repressive regime of Burma. Some big name companies have already stated that they won't use Burmese rubies. More information from Human Rights Watch's website at

Friday, 1 February 2008

Interview #2: Liz O'Neill

Liz O'Neill is head of communications at the Vegetarian Society. She and husband Joe, a teacher, were married in July 2002.

“Our desire to have an ethical wedding started with the fact that I was vegetarian and Joe is a strict vegan,” says Liz, “so we wanted to have good food that met with our ethical beliefs. And then it just made sense to approach other parts of the wedding so that it reflected how we felt about the world.

“Out guests covered a really wide spread of ages and interests, from some who very much agreed with us politically and socially to others who didn't really know about our beliefs. But afterwards, lots of people said it was a really good wedding in that it totally reflected who we are as people and as a couple, instead of just being like everybody else's wedding days.”

As well as sourcing almost entirely vegan food from a small vegetarian restaurant in Chorlton, Manchester, Liz applied environmental and fair trade ideas to the rest of the wedding.

“One of the hardest things was the flowers. I went into so many florists and was just met with blanks stares or even one place which laughed at me when I asked about local or fair trade flowers – I think awareness of the issues has increased loads since then, but a lot of places just didn't have a clue five or six years ago. Lots of people assumed that because I wanted things to be ethical I was looking for a hippy look, when actually we wanted something quite classic – modern and urban, but very smart too. People kept offering me grasses!

“But eventually I found a place in Buxton where the woman was interested in helping to source them, and she did a great job – she even dropped them off herself on the way to visit her mum!”

Another issue that Joe and Liz felt strongly about was waste. “I'm always upset by all of those little table decorations and favours and things you get at weddings, which mostly must end up in the bin,” says Liz.

One of Liz's solutions was to ask friends and several local restaurants to save the cobalt-blue bottles that companies like Ty Nant sell mineral water in, and Neal's Yard toiletries are packaged in. They were used to make striking vases for fresh flowers on each table at the reception. Liz made many of the table decorations herself, using ribbons and materials from craft shops.

Joe is also a very keen cyclist, so the couple had a cycle rickshaw to carry them from the church to their reception.

Liz's dress came from a small boutique and was made by a European designer, while Joe had a suit made at a local tailor in Nottingham, where he was living at the time. “Neither place was particularly super-ethical,” says Liz, “but they were the kind of independent local businesses that we felt it was important to support, and they provided us with just what we wanted.”

And following a Roman Catholic church service, Liz and Joe's reception was held at a local community centre. “We really enjoyed, and felt strongly about, celebrating our wedding somewhere that was local to us and where we were part of a community, rather than going somewhere in another part of the country where we didn't have any connections. It was a very affordable venue, too – in the end we were able to provide all the drinks as well as food, outfits, flowers, venue etc for less than £10,000.”

Liz's main recommendation is just to take each stage of the wedding planning process as it comes, and then to think about what the alternatives might be. “If you just view it as lots of single jobs and find a way of doing each one of them as you want it, it suddenly seems much more manageable,” she says.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Interview with Rebecca & Hugo Whately

Here is the first of my interview posts - conversations with people who've had green or ethical weddings and who have ideas and tips for those of use still in the planning phases!

Rebecca and Hugo Whately

We decided to get married about 18 months before the wedding and we really struggled about how to do it. We didn't know how we wanted to get married – we knew we didn't want to get married in a church and we were quite put off by a lot of things that we traditional about the traditional wedding and wedding industry, so it took us about 6 months of thinking about how to do it – whether we wanted a big wedding and lots of people.

And one of our concerns about having a big wedding was the environmental impact of having that many people travel and huge amounts of food. Coincidentally, Hugo found Daphne and Penrhos on the internet, and my family already knew about Penrhos, so it seemed an ideal place for us to get married. We met Daphne and really liked her and we really like the kind of thing she did at Penrhos [Penrhos is a converted mediaeval manor farm in the Welsh Borders, with a pioneering organic restaurant and interests local food. They offer a full range of wedding facilities and help with planning green weddings.]

For both of us food is really important, we're both really appreciate good food but also food that's sourced locally and organically and seasonally, which Daphne does.

So that was a brilliant start really, and once we'd decided to have it at Penrhos we pretty much just trusted Daphne, because I didn't have any clear ideas the way some people do of how I wanted it to be, so we trusted her to sort it out. I didn't have an image in my head of some huge day – my partner Hugo actually did more organisation than I did, I'm usually really put off by big events and that meant that I wasn't the middle of organising it all so I could actually be quite calm and had an amazing day.

So Daphne sorted out a lot of it, like the food, and it was really nice because everyone could stay at Penrhos – we had about a hundred people with all our families and Daphne was really flexible and sorted it out with the local farmer so that people who weren't staying in the building could camp in one of his fields next door, which was great.

She was really brilliant at really taking on as much as we wanted her to take on but being flexible on things like having lots of our friends camping in the field next door.

We also made the invitations ourselves and wrote them out.

Ethical dresses, suits and rings?

For the clothing it was really amazing, once of my friends offered to make my dress. The material wasn't sourced really environmentally, I suppose – it came from a fabric shop on the Edgeware Road in London, and my friend over the year made my dress with the added challenge that over the year it had to change shape because during the year I became pregnant so the design needed to be changed for that.

And Hugo had a pair of linen trousers from years ago and he got a waistcoat and shirt from Green Fibres.

The rings – Daphne did a printout of things like local bands and local jewellers and flowers and we used that a lot – so actually we used a local jeweller in Worcestershire, we went for a weekend with him up there and made our own rings and he was this incredible character and had this incredible studio in the countryside which looked over the countryside, and he was there to make sure there weren't any disasters and to make sure we ended up with a ring each! And he sourced the white gold for us in the jewellery quarter in Birmingham.

Weddings lists

We ummed and aaahed about the idea of a wedding list. We didn't particularly like the idea of a wedding list and the over-consumption of the whole wedding industry and the wastefulness of it in some ways and going with the usual rituals just for the sake of it, so we tried to be a bit... [Hugo in background – 'spending for spending's sake'] so in the end we had a wedding list with Green Fibres and got some bedding from there, and then there's a little traditional shop round the corner from us which is run by a couple and does kitchenware and garden things, and they were great, so it was just those two things.

Local flowers

And then flowers- a friend of Daphne's tries to do flowers in a more ethical, local way and grows a lot in her garden and grows wild flowers and herbs and we didn't get any of the flowers from abroad, it was all flowers grown locally. and a friend of mine made my bouquet from her garden.


It cost less than £10,000 for a hundred people and that included paying for people to stay the night at Penrhos and for people to camp, and we paid for all the drinks in the evening, and that included everyone staying overnight in the building or camping and then having a big breakfast the next day together. It was really lovely – having been someone who was quite phobic of big parties and bringing all these different people together it actually turned out to be a really incredible day.

Mum and Dad made the wedding cake and Hugo's brothers did the music – basically Daphne did everything we wanted her to and then we could add things on like that.

And the food was incredible – I think people sometimes have the idea that if it's going to be organic food it's going to be a bit bleurgh, but it was really beautifully cooked and delicious.


I think it's quite good at each step to think about how to do it and thinking about whether there's an alternative way. So we didn't really sit down and plan it but because we were engaged well before we got married we had plenty of time to think about it, so we could do the invitations and you can easily do those yourself, and thinking about everything from flowers to wedding lists. Particularly now it's not so difficult, there are lots of people who offer alternative services and also i think people who are coming to the wedding like friends and family, we didn't want to be really sanctimonious about it, not everyone agrees with us completely, so it was about having a really incredible day without trying to push a particular political or ethical stance, but at the same time it just had that feel to it.

Hugo: we wanted to get married but we didn't like weddings!

A lot of people find finding the venue difficult, so finding a venue where everything was like that was great and they could organise so much of it and then we could just do the bits we wanted – that was perfect. People who usually go to church weddings said they were surprised by how moving the ceremony could be without being in a church – we passed the rings round, we got married inside this tiny little room and then went outside and passed the rings round to everyone held them and it kind of included everyone in the ceremony.


And then we went for our honeymoon on an eco-retreat in Wales, in this incredibly luxurious blissful teepee with a fire and lots of rugs, outside Machynlleth, four miles down a dirt track.

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