By Nadeem Badshah
THE coronavirus pandemic has led to a love lockdown, impacting thousands of couples, wedding firms and matrimonial services.
Engagement, nikkah and civil reception ceremonies across the country have been postponed due to social distancing measures and bans on mass gatherings.
With ceremonies delayed, the revenue of photographers, mehndi artists, DJs, wedding planners and florists have also suffered.
Matchmaking services said they have also been affected by the pandemic, with people looking for partners unable to meet in person with some forced to speak to each via video calls.
Meanwhile, couples have been urged to postpone ceremonies instead of cancelling them in order to save the industry.
Bhavna Barratt, a wedding expert and photographer who runs bhavnabarratt.com, said the impact of Covid-19 “has been significant” and ceremonies she was booked for from April until July have been postponed.
She told Eastern Eye: “Some couples are postponing the wedding because their family and friends cannot travel from abroad, and others are postponing because they don’t want to risk the health of their guests.
“As an industry, we are asking couples to pause or postpone the wedding celebrations, not cancel them. Cancellations have a much bigger effect on the wedding industry suppliers, most of whom are self employed and rely on the cash flow, which a postponement may offer.
“I’m really grateful that all my couples have been very understanding and have even offered to pay the wedding balance to make sure my business keeps afloat.”
She added: “I would suggest that most couples who are postponing their wedding, consult their wedding suppliers on their availability before they book a new date with the venue. This way they are more likely to keep all the same suppliers. I would also suggest looking at weekday dates, as keys dates in the new year will most likely be filled up.
“This has made us even more determined to spread the joy that weddings bring.”
Research by website OnBuy found that since the lockdown started in March, there have been at least 340,000 global searches on Google for dating apps.
Some 64 per cent of people admitted to trying online dating, while a third said they had received a text from an ex-partner in lockdown.
Parag Bhargava, who runs the Suman Marriage Bureau in Southall, west London, said a client’s wedding in April was cancelled.
He told Eastern Eye: “We are hardly getting any calls as people join our service to meet people face-to-face and that is currently not able to happen.
“A couple who met last year after four meetings decided to go forward [with marriage]. Last week was the sangeet ceremony, then the wedding reception, but the whole lot has been cancelled.
“We get a marriage settlement fee. A lot of clients said there’s no point sending them an introduction as they can’t meet.
“But some had had more time to chat. A few have had video calls, although there is no substitute for face-to-face.”
Bhargava added: “Autumn could be the wedding season, but couples want photographs outside when the weather is nice.
“My sister had a gurdwara wedding in March – 200 people were invited but 120 turned up. They were fortunate to get that many, people pulled out due to [coronavirus] warnings.
“If weddings are a business’s main source of income, it’s going to be tough to start again. Even for established businesses like ours, it’s not a good position to be in.
“But you have to be positive. I see my two teenage sons more, there has been extra bonding. It’s nice from that point of view.”
New figures have shown religious nuptials have fallen in the past 30 years to their lowest level on record, partly because of the falling popularity of marriage mainly among the young.
In 2017, there were 242,842 marriages in England and Wales, down 2.8 per cent on the previous year, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Religious marriages fell by 9.5 per cent between 2016 and 2017, whereas civil wedding ceremonies dropped by only 0.6 per cent.
Only 22 per cent of weddings included a religious ceremony, down from 53 per cent in 1990 and 85 per cent in 1900.
Mariam Butt, 29, said a few of her friends and a cousin from India had weddings booked in April.
The finance worker in London said: “It’s a stressful time for those looking to get married as many would have paid deposits for venues as well as other services.
“It’s the peak season so it is going to be hectic rearranging so many weddings.
“Even after the lockdown is removed, I am not sure how many people will attend ceremonies later in the year.
“My cousin in India was due to get married in April, invitations had been printed and distributed. They have lost out financially and starting the preparations again may not be affordable for them.”