Sinead and Hayley-Jane wanted a non-traditional wedding, so they chose a humanist ceremony, which meant they could have their wedding their way: non-religious, personally tailored to telling their love story, and representative of their values.
Hayley-Jane tells us how they met, got engaged, and planned their wedding with expert help from humanist celebrant Cate Quinn.
How we met
We met twelve years ago in Manchester at Northern Wave (an LGBT swimming group). At that time, I was coaching the women’s session, and one day Sinead came along.
I wasn’t sure if Sinead liked me, as she always seemed a bit grumpy around me. I later found out it was because I made her swim front crawl, which she hated!
We were friends for a number of years and hung out socially as part of a bigger group, but never went beyond that. It turned out that we each had a soft spot for the other, but I certainly didn’t know my feelings were reciprocated.
It took us a while but, in 2015, the timing fell into place and we got together at Manchester Pride. Five years later, we’re happily married with a baby on the way!
We went on an amazing camping holiday in France last year. Our first campsite was stunning. We had an amazing pitch, which looked out over the countryside, and every night, we would sit in our camping chairs just looking out, watching the sun set, chatting, eating patisserie, and drinking wine. Our French neighbours must have thought we were so boring, but we were loving it!
One such evening, when our neighbours had gone out for the night, Sinead seized the moment and asked me to marry her, and brought out an amazing token ring, which was in the shape of a bike. It was lovely.
We weren’t really sure what we wanted initially, other than for it to feel informal and a fun celebration — a big, down to earth party!
We had a better idea of what we didn’t want — neither of us wanted to feel like we were the centre of attention all day, and we knew we wanted to omit certain traditions that just didn’t feel quite right for us as a same-sex couple.
The planning process
We started planning our humanist wedding about ten months in advance, but we found that not really knowing what we wanted made things a bit tricky. We wanted something that felt informal and to keep to a relatively small budget. We were focusing on the ‘feel’ rather than the style.
We wanted enough space for at least 100 people, so that all our much-loved family and friends could be with us. (Please note: this was a pre-covid-19 wedding.) And, being outdoorsy people, we liked the idea of a ceremony out in the open. It was also really important to us that we enjoyed our day and weren’t stressing about logistics.
When we started wedding-planning, we were a little surprised by how gendered the wedding industry seemed to be. While things have clearly come on in leaps and bounds in recent years, it still felt like many venues and services were based around more traditional wedding formats which we felt just didn’t ‘speak’ to or represent us. We were sure many traditional venues would have welcomed us, but we decided we wanted to create something and be somewhere which felt like it fit with ‘us’ from the off.
We found quite quickly that organising a large, reasonably priced, not-too-formal, not too logistic-heavy wedding, with outside space for a ceremony was somewhat of a challenge.
Booking the Henshaws Arts and Crafts Centre was the turning point after which everything fell into place. Sinead knew the centre growing up. It turned out that it was the perfect venue that we didn’t know we were looking for!
It was a really unique venue — well-suited to a good party. And, it really met our values in terms of the fee going directly to the charity itself to support local residents with visual impairments and/or learning disabilities to take part in creative activities.
The staff members have the perfect attitude towards wedding planning that we knew would just fit with us. They were very informal, and relaxed — but also used to running big community events and so we knew we were in good hands.
The venue had a real ‘family feel’ to it. All the staff working at the wedding had links to the centre in one way or another; some had used their services in the past — and so it really did feel like a big, happy, community party. It couldn’t have been more perfect. It was a down-to-earth, non-traditional, fun wedding – everything we wanted.
Why we chose a humanist wedding
When we got home, we started to research humanist weddings and realised this was what we wanted our ceremony to be — non-religious, personally tailored to us, and representative of us as individuals, our story, and our values.
Because Cate Quinn is a volunteer at Henshaws, we felt she was totally the right fit to be our celebrant.
We didn’t really know what to expect or what we wanted ahead of our first meeting, but Cate guided us through and asked the right questions to get an idea of our personalities and the feel for the type of ceremony that would suit us.
The questionnaires she sent us for us to each fill out separately worked really well to help build our ceremony, which was basically the story of us.
We found ourselves a bit overwhelmed with so much choice for options for vows, but Cate was great with her suggestions. It was lovely having free reign to choose what felt like us.
The ceremony was wonderful. We were outside in one of the courtyards of the Arts and Crafts Centre, with our friends and family informally spread around us.
‘We didn’t want to walk down the aisle, so we just mingled with everyone until we were ready to start.‘
We’d picked a couple of readings to be read out by family members that we felt represented us well — including one about bicycles. (We love bikes!)
The story of our relationship was woven throughout the ceremony. The sun came out — it had been raining all morning — and it was so lovely and relaxed. There was lots of laughter and it felt really wonderful and personal to us.
There were a couple of minor hiccups: at one point, we were almost drowned out by the sound of persistent wedding bells at someone else’s special day at the church down the road. Given how many times we’d said we didn’t want a ‘traditional’, religious wedding, this felt quite ironic! But the ambience was so relaxed, and Cate so personable, that we were all able to laugh at it, and in a funny way, it just added to the experience. In short, the ceremony felt like a very special time in both our lives.
The legal bit
We did the legal bit two days before our humanist wedding ceremony in a register office near our home. It was lovely, but a very brief affair. We always knew that our humanist wedding would be the ‘real deal’ as far as we were concerned, and it’s the date we celebrate as our anniversary.
To us, being at Henshaws Arts and Crafts Centre, surrounded by the people we love, with a wonderful personalised ceremony is what weddings, and commitment are about. We’d highly recommend a humanist ceremony to other couples looking for an informal and non-traditional wedding. We believe it will make your day truly special and memorable.
Our wedding photos were taken by Kirstie of Infinity Photos in Harrogate.
Many thanks to Sinead and Hayley-Jane for sharing their story with us!
If you’d like your humanist wedding featured on the blog, email us today!
Cate Quinn is based in Knaresborough. She conducts non-religious weddings (and funerals) in North Yorkshire and further afield.
Humanist wedding ceremonies
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