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Love is in the air
ONE sunny day last month a couple in their 20s were married in the Garden Room of Swindon Register Office.
They exchanged vows unaware that they were making history. They were the 1,000th couple married at the register office since it moved from Temple Street to a plush new Civic Offices HQ on June 1, 2011.
The occasion passed register office staff by as well, so busy is their schedule, but when they realised and the couple were contacted afterwards they turned out to be publicity-shy.
The same was true of the slightly older couple who recently became the 500th married in the Garden Room, the largest of three ceremony rooms.
When it comes to weddings, the register office hasn’t looked back since Philip and Laura Stevens tied the knot three days after the new premises opened for business.
The groom said at the time: “The new office is such an improvement on the old site and it is really something that Swindon should be proud of.
“I think now a lot more people will want to come and get married here and bookings will soon fill up.”
He was proved right. In the last year before the move there were 304 weddings: in the first year afterwards there were 405, and over the next 12 months 467.
“It’s because our rooms are brilliant,” said Mamie Beasant, who at 54 has been a registrar for 13 years and Superintendent Registrar in charge of Swindon for seven. “Most register offices don’t have the choice we offer here.”
Of the three rooms for ceremonies in Swindon, the most impressive is the Garden Room, which holds 60 guests and boasts a sound system and a discreet webcam to beam images and sound to extended families anywhere on the planet with an internet connection.
“We’ve also changed our availabilty so we’re available later on Saturdays,” said Mamie. “It’s becoming more popular because people can go straight to an evening party rather than having a wedding breakfast and then an evening party.”
We’re forever being told by assorted commentators that marriage is declining, but the truth seems to be that what is declining is not marriage itself but the old fashioned one-size-fits-all approach to it.
At the register office, couples choose their own music, their own readings and can write their own vows if they wish. Sometimes the vows refer to children from previous relationships, reassuring them that they are much loved members of a new family unit.
Registrars also officiate in ceremonies at other venues such as certain hotels.
“In Swindon,” Mamie added, “marriage is still growing. Whether that’s because the population is still growing, I don’t know, but other areas surrounding ours are not seeing the same increases. I’m sort of putting it down to the fact that Swindon is a young town still.”
Some couples go for relatively low-key weddings while others choose anything but. Unusual modes of transport are a recurring theme.
In July of 2011, for example, bus driver Simon Creber and bride Caroline became the first of several couples to opt for a vintage double decker, while earlier this year Carly Taylor and Richard Smith began their life journey as newlyweds in a milk float.
Another couple opted for 1950s American cars and still another a refuse truck.
Mamie and her colleagues have presided over weddings involving the national costumes of countless countries, and heard the music of countless cultures. The steel band who serenaded a couple in the flower garden are a particularly special memory.
The most popular music, though, is less unusual, with My Way and We Have All the Time in the World especially popular.
Mamie said: “I think people are less afraid of making a commitment to each other now, and actually want to do that.
“I think they want to do it their way, and the more choice we can give them the more likely they are to want to go through with it.”
Further information about Swindon Register Office can be found at www.swindon.gov.uk