When Suzanne Fitzpatrick decided to buy an old building at the heart of Southwell several years ago, it was dirty, smelly and badly rundown.
Now it has been transformed into a plush and successful boutique wedding venue that has landed a national award, voted for by customers.
“It has been a lot of hard work, but we got there in the end!” said Suzanne’s daughter, 26-year-old Chelsea Edgington, after she learned that The Old Vicarage at Westhorpe had been named best country house wedding venue in the UK by the website and mobile app, Bridebook.
“What a wonderful way to start 2019!” beamed Chelsea, who is managing director of the venue. “We are over the moon.
“We won the East Midlands award in 2017, but to be recognised as the best in the whole country, out of thousands of participants, is a huge achievement.”
It is certainly a huge achievement when you consider the poor state the building was in when Chelsea’s parents, led by mum Suzanne, 49, took the plunge and opted to buy it at auction in 2005.
It might have stood on more than an acre of picturesque conservation land, but it was empty, dilapidated and had fallen into disrepair.
Chelsea recalled: “It used to be an old people’s home, but it had been derelict for six years.
“It was just a shell of a building. The floors and walls were old, it needed a new heating system and a complete revamp.
“We love interior design and fancied knocking it about a bit. But we couldn’t afford to pay builders and had to do all the refurbishment work ourselves. My dad helped, and we got some local handymen in.”
Originally, Suzanne intended to turn the building, which was a vicarage from 1847 to 1946, into the family home. But as renovation costs spiralled, she decided to convert it into a business operation and the kind of hotel and fine-dining restaurant that Southwell had been lacking.
Not until May 2009 was she in a position to open for business. However, The Old Vicarage quickly earned a reputation for comfort, culinary delights and personal service.
“And then, one day, one of our regular customers asked us if they could book it for their wedding,” said Chelsea.
“We thought: oh gosh, we’re not sure about that! But it went well and now, weddings are what we focus on. The business is exclusively a wedding venue.”
Chelsea and owner Suzanne spearhead that family-orientated business, which employs two events managers, a full-time kitchen manager, an apprentice and several part-time workers.
It has made such progress in recent years that it averages up to 100 weddings per year, and Chelsea and Suzanne have developed their experience and expertise so well that they can comfortably cope with back-to-back weddings on successive days.
The venue has a reception capacity of 80, dining capacity of 50 and eight luxurious bedrooms, including a bridal suite, for guests to stay over. A church is within walking distance.
Considered a unique and intimate venue, The Old Vicarage also boasts a handcrafted bandstand, and Chelsea and Suzanne pride themselves on offering “an exclusive, exceptional, tailored service, with a focus on creativity and individuality”.
It’s a service that has won the hearts and minds of customers, whose opinions have led to The Old Vicarage winning the Bridebook award.
Users of the Bridebook wedding planner website and app are invited to leave reviews of the venues they have experienced. And of more than 25,000 reviews and testimonials about thousands of venues during 2018, The Old Vicarage was top of the pile in its category.
Glowing, five-star tributes on Bridebook included these comments: ‘An absolutely gorgeous venue’, ‘Nothing was too much trouble for them’, ‘Exceptional staff and a faultless experience’, ‘Best venue I have ever visited’, ‘Every detail perfect’, ‘The team were outstanding’, ‘We had the most amazing time’, and ‘Unbelievably perfect’.
And so it goes on. It seems that the wedding vows of hundreds of married couples include a date at The Old Vicarage in Southwell.