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.

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