Planning your wedding normally involves countless meetings with dress designers, photographers, florists and the venue owners. Not for this couple. Once Lucy and Jan had decided on The Barn at Botley Hill – even before it was built – they did much of their preparations via the internet from 4,200 miles away! Organising the details of their `big day’ proved a welcome relief from their intense humanitarian work in Africa…
Photography: Fresh Shoot Studios
As an aid worker at the front line of the conflict in north east Nigeria, Lucy says planning her wedding at The Barn at Botley Hill via emails was “light relief” and her way of “switching off”.
She and her now husband, Jan, were part of a humanitarian team helping 1.2million people who had been displaced by war between the Nigerian military and Islamic State insurgents.
Their job was to deliver life-saving food and nutrition assistance to people affected by the conflict, and to manage camps where people who had fled were seeking safety.
“There were new challenges every day with the military stopping convoys, and roads blocked constantly,” explains Lucy. “You had to think on your feet as it was a complex and rapidly changing war zone and we were very much on the front line. We often heard rockets and artillery fire.”
Long distance wedding planning
So, to sit down with her laptop during her breaks to catch up with Sheila and the team at The Barn at Botley Hill was a welcome contrast.
Lucy organised all aspects of her wedding over the internet and via email – from the flowers to the food and the photographer.
“I found it quite easy just pinging off an email with a request or an enquiry,” she says.
They had booked their wedding at The Barn when it was still just an artist’s impression, so email was Lucy and Jan’s way of keeping updated on its progress.
“Sheila sent me regular emails, even sending photos when the diggers broke the first bit of ground.”
Lucy met Jan, who is German, in 2013 when they both set out on their first mission abroad with humanitarian organisation ACTED, working in Tajikistan on the border with Afghanistan.
It was a poor country and the aid work focussed on encouraging rural economic development and working with farming cooperatives, sharing ideas on how to grow and produce food.
“We were working and living together in a guest house. It was an intense environment and our first experience in aid work.” But in that harsh environment, love blossomed.
They spent the next few years working together on missions in Pakistan, Ukraine, Somalia and Kenya and finally Nigeria in 2018.
“It is really exhausting work but we love it. We feel we are doing something worthwhile,” says the 30-year-old.
Jan proposed to Lucy in October 2017, while they were on holiday on the Isle of Mull in Scotland.
“It was wild, torrential rain but Jan insisted we went for a walk up to the cliffs. It was incredibly beautiful; the view was amazing. He proposed when we got to the top.”
A Surrey barn wedding
With friends and family spread all over the world, trying to decide where to have the wedding was tricky, but in the end Lucy’s dream of getting ready for her big day from her family home in Croydon won.
“I am away so much that home is very special,” she says. She even had her hen night at home – preferring a sleepover with girlfriends to a night out.
Lucy also knew she wanted a barn wedding rather than a country house. Jan on the other hand had always liked the idea of getting married in an English country inn.
So, it was fate when, during a lunch with her mum and dad at Botley Hill Farmhouse, a regular family haunt, the couple spotted a chalkboard announcing that a new Surrey wedding barn venue was coming soon. They met with Sheila the very next day to discuss the plans.
“The timeline for The Barn opening was very far off but it ticked all the boxes. It was 15 minutes from mum and dad’s house, it was a barn, plus the designs looked beautiful, not stuffy and formal, but classy in a relaxed way.”
“But a big part was Sheila and the team. They were so friendly and engaging which made it a very easy decision. We loved Botley Hill Farmhouse so we thought if this is the kind of thing they do, then whatever else they do will be equally lovely.”
Beautiful, whatever the weather
Their wedding was booked for Saturday October 26, 2019. Over the next 15 months, each time the couple came home on leave they went for lunch or dinner at Botley Hill Farmhouse to check on The Barn’s progress.
When the big day came, the only element Lucy couldn’t organise by email from Nigeria was the English weather.
They got married at St John’s Church in Shirley at 1pm and, as the wedding party lined up outside for the `confetti photo’, the heavens opened and it didn’t stop raining for the next 12 hours.
But nothing could spoil the day, says Lucy.
“It was absolutely perfect despite the horrid weather,” she says. “And actually, the weather made it feel really cosy inside The Barn. My mum had bought me a pair of powder blue wellies as my “something blue”, so Jan and I even had some of our photos outside in the rain.”
Among the wedding party of 102 adults and five children were friends from Nigeria and Jan’s grandmother who travelled by plane for the first time in her life to be with them.
Autumn foliage and colours were the theme and Lucy was particularly impressed with her florist, Lucy Lister. “She was amazing – the flowers and arrangements were really pretty and she `got’ the theme.”
For the wedding breakfast, Jan and Lucy wanted `unpretentious traditional English hearty pub food’.
Guests enjoyed a starter of goat’s cheese with autumn vegetables, followed by beef bourguignon. The three-tier wedding cake, decorated in falling autumn leaves, was served for dessert.
A honeymoon adventure
Five days after their wedding, Jan and Lucy headed off for their honeymoon – not a conventional two-week beach holiday for this couple. No, a seven-week road trip from Chile to Patagonia in a camper van.
It included a hiking adventure, leading them all the way down to Ushuaia, the last town before Antarctica.
“We wanted to say we had been to the southern-most city in the world together,” says Lucy.
We’re so pleased that getting married in the highest wedding barn venue in Surrey also ticked a box for this intrepid couple who have explored the world together. We wish them many, many more happy years of adventures.