Wedding planner organises giant 'hug parties' to celebrate the end of lockdown

A wedding planner whose own big day were cancelled because of the pandemic is now organising ‘hug parties’ to celebrate the easing of restrictions.

Sarah Balfour, 45, from north west London, had most of her weddings and events postponed when the coronavirus pandemic struck last year – including her own wedding to fiancé Lloyd Michaels, 47, scheduled for August 2020.

Sarah’s latest party idea aligns with the easing of restrictions which means people can now hug loved ones outside their own households.

‘People are so happy to be reunited with their loved ones now the restrictions are easing, and it struck me that a hug party would be a lovely way to celebrate that,’ says Sarah.

‘I’m so used to planning big events, such as milestone birthdays and weddings, but now people just want to celebrate being together again.

‘Simply being able to hug each other is enough of a reason for a party.’

Sarah started her career as a concert pianist and session musician before she moved into wedding and event planning.

‘I was performing both in concerts as a classical pianist and also in sessions in the pop industry. I did a lot of touring with pop stars, Top of the Pops, CD:UK,’ she says.

‘After about 12 years or so of doing that, I was getting increasingly frustrated about how I was treated by some music managers and music agents, who I felt weren’t paying on time or paying enough.

‘I decided to set up a music agency that treated musicians fairly, paid them on time and paid them what I considered was the fair amount.’

Entrepreneurial Sarah also launched Orchid Events – planning special occasions like weddings, with an emphasis on live music – and now she hopes to employ the same approach to her post lockdown hug parties.

‘We’ve all spent the past year longing to give our loved ones a hug and the pandemic has been especially tough on the hospitality industry,’ she says.

‘Something that’s very deeply important to me is to keep music live. And I’m actually currently trying to push venues to consider making live music a regular feature of theirs.’

It was listening to feedback from her regular clients that first sparked Sarah’s idea for her new cuddle venture.

‘Some wrote to me saying they simply wanted to celebrate having friends and family over again, which made me realise you don’t need a significant date or reason anymore to have a party,’ she says.

Sarah has nicknamed the parties ‘champagne and hug’ events and the simpler get-togethers will have some décor and refreshments, while the more lavish affairs will have a live band – although the prices remain confidential between her and each individual client.

‘There’s no pressure to hug if you’re not comfortable,’ Sarah adds. ‘I think just being with your loved ones is special enough and we want to make sure all of our guests are happy.

‘There will be hand sanitiser available, and the guests will be seated at socially distanced tables.

‘So far, I am organising them to take place at clients’ homes, and at the moment they need to be in the back garden, but restrictions permitting, we’re planning to host them at hired venues too in the next few months, all being well.’

But while live music is something Sarah is keen to include wherever possible, guests will have to remain seated, as dancing is still banned under current restrictions.

‘We’re playing it by ear as the rules continue to change but, so far, one client has requested Cuban jazz,’ she says.

‘It’s times like this that make you realise that it’s the simple things that matter most. Who would have thought that a hug could be the reason for your party?’

Sarah is keen to bring a smile to people’s faces after all the sadness and disappointment of the past year – something she understands on a personal level, after her own wedding was postponed.

Now, she hopes to tie the knot this summer, as restrictions continue to ease.

‘I’m sure we can all agree that we’re hopeful that things will now get back to some kind of a normality. I have exciting events to plan that I’m hoping will go ahead soon, including my own wedding.

‘For now, though, I think we could all do with a hug from someone we love.’

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