Lockdown has changed the wedding plans for thousands and caused endless frustration and heartbreak, but one couple have found a silver lining in the disruption.
Timi Merriman-Johnson, 31, and Jenni Hagan, 30, had planned to spend around £20,000 on a grand celebration with two ceremonies, two parties and more than 200 guests, but instead they have been forced to have a small affair at a Chelsea registry office.
In attendance at the modest ceremony in August will be just 12 guests, and it will cost the couple around £4,000.
But, instead of despairing over what they had lost, Timi and Jenni decided to use all that wedding budget and put it towards buying their first home.
The pair celebrated with a ‘first home cake’, designed to look like a model of their block of flats.
The cash they saved was put towards helping them buy the third-floor, two-bedroom flat they already shared in Southwark, south London, for £465,000.
‘We were already living in the property, so we didn’t have a moving in day. But when Halifax sent the cake we celebrated the move – and it was delicious,’ says Timi, who’s from Croydon.
Jenni, who grew up in Dundee, Scotland, adds: ‘Buying our flat instead of having a big wedding was much more about us making the right decisions for ourselves at the right time.’
The couple first crossed paths at their friends’ wedding in London in 2015, where Timi was one of the groomsmen and Jenni knew the couple through work.
‘Our friends were trying to hook us up for the whole next year,’ says Timi.
‘At the wedding, we said hello briefly but I was running around trying to sort the seating out – as an entire table had been forgotten about.’
Meeting properly in December 2016, on a night out at a bar and restaurant with mutual pals, the pair hit it off instantly.
‘It didn’t feel like a date, just two people who’d known each other for a long time going for dinner,’ says Timi.
The two quickly became serious, exploring different bits of the city as they got to know each other.
Moving in together in 2017 was a milestone for the love birds.
When Jenni’s lease expired, they began looking for a rented home together in south London, settling first on a ground-floor flat in Vauxhall before moving to their Southwark flat a year later.
Having put aside money every month, when their then-landlady had the property valued in early 2020, they decided to approach her about buying their home.
‘We first spoke to our landlady in February and told her we were a young couple trying to get on the property ladder, meaning we weren’t in a chain,’ says Timi.
Discussions went well until Covid hit in March – when, with the county put in lockdown, they came to a halt.
‘She retreated, understandably, and banks started to pull products as well. But, in the summer, things were getting slightly better and she came back to us and asked if we were still interested,’ he says.
Alongside their plans to buy, Timi and Jenni had discussed marriage – and carried out an unconventional proposal in September 2020.
‘We knew quite early on that we wanted to be in a long-term relationship with each other. We’d regularly check in about how we felt about marriage and the rest of life’s milestones,’ says Timi.
‘But I didn’t propose to Jenni and she didn’t propose to me. We actually proposed to each other’s parents!
‘We went to visit my mum and asked for her blessing to be married and visited Jenni’s parents in Scotland and asked them.
‘My mum was really happy and Jenni’s parents were too, and said they were really looking forward to welcoming me to the family.’
Both coming from big, tight-knit families, their first instinct was to turn their marriage celebration into a huge party, with multiple celebrations.
‘I am from a British Nigerian background and Jenni is Scottish, so we come from two cultures that love to party and dance,’ says Timi.
‘We created a spreadsheet and a conservative guest list was 200. It easily could have been 300.
‘We would have had a traditional Nigerian and a Scottish ceremony – so 200 people at two events.’
But aware of the fluctuating pandemic restrictions, they then decided on a single smaller do, planned for 14th August, 2021, with 12 of their closest loved ones, followed by a restaurant meal and drinks at a hotel.
Discussions continued with their landlady and in October 2020, they agreed the sale and were able to pay a 10% deposit on the property’s £465,000 value.
‘We had decided to buy a house first before planning a wedding of any kind. We felt the house was more important to us than having a big expensive wedding,’ says Jenni.
While the cake they received from mortgage lenders Halifax was the icing on the celebration.
Delighted with the gift, Timi and Jenni even did a photoshoot with their delivery – moulded to look like their Southwark block of flats, with cake figures of themselves stood outside.
‘We will have a wedding cake as well to share that moment with our family and friends next month – so we didn’t save any of this one in the freezer for our move-in date anniversary,’ says Timi.
Now, the couple are busy making their new home their own and have just bought a new sofa to add to the contents given to them as part of the sale.
‘The wedding, even though it’s small, will be a celebration of us and the house as well,’ says Timi. ‘At some point in the future, we’ll be able to look back over the past year and pop that bottle of champagne.’
‘Covid didn’t go away when it was supposed to, and we didn’t want to keep rearranging our wedding plans,’ adds Jenni. ‘Buying our home felt like security to me.’
Research from Halifax shows that nearly two-thirds (64%) of couples say owning their home is a bigger priority than getting hitched. To help couples celebrate getting their first home and give them their own cake-cutting moment, Halifax has teamed up with extreme cake maker Ben Cullen, known as The Bake King, to create larger than life first-home cakes.
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