Asian wedding industry ‘forgotten’ during pandemic, campaigners say

The Asian wedding industry has been “forgotten and ignored” amid the coronavirus pandemic, campaigners have said.

Organisers of a ‘Wedding funeral’ protest in Parliament Square, that had to be postponed due to Covid restrictions, have vowed to carry on fighting for the industry after they said they had been excluded from the Government’s Covid-19 support packages.

Sammir Saroya, 43, runs Greenleaf, a family catering business alongside his brother Rehan, 49. Since the start of the pandemic, they have had to issue around £400,000 in refunds to clients for booked weddings.

Mr Saroya set up the Asian Wedding Association to campaign for better support for the industry.

He told the PA news agency: “I was speaking to people and they were saying, we haven’t been given any support — it just feels like we have been forgotten for no reason.”

Part of the issue, he said, is the large numbers that attend Asian weddings, which can have upwards of 500 guests: “The numbers can’t really go down.”

In an average year, Greenleaf caters 350-400 events, feeding up to 100,000 people.

But Mr Saroya said because the Government has refused to recognise the wedding industry within the definition of hospitality – Asian wedding companies have been excluded from grants and rates relief given to other hospitality businesses.

He had to take out a loan to cover the level of refunds he was required to give by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

He said: “Because the government said this could last up to six months, all our bookings from January to March have now just vanished. We have April to June brides asking for their money back.

“We are just being ignored and told to get on with it and to retrain because our businesses are not viable. My business is 42 years old, it’s not a joke.

Some venues have resorted to catering “underground weddings” to get around restrictions.

Mr Saroya said: “One client asked me to cater a wedding for 60 people and said she would pay the £10,000 if we got fined, but it is not worth risking the reputation of my business. But if the government are not going to give anyone any support, then people are going to do these things.”

Thufayel Amed, manager of Ariana Gardens Banquet hall, said he had lost three-quarters of his booked weddings since March. He also did not qualify for any business rates relief.

He said: “It was devastating. we need something to keep us going. If you imagine a typical wedding venue, the rooms need to be dusted, they need someone to cut the grass and we have to pay for that.

“If we have got no money we can’t maintain the premises and if we can’t maintain the premises then brides looking round for next year won’t want to book and pay deposits.”

He said the industry needed to be able to plan ahead, which has been difficult due to the fluctuating numbers of people allowed at weddings.

“A wedding you plan maybe two years in advance, so how do we survive not being able to plan?” he said.

“We need to be able to plan for the future.”