Abbey wedding ban under review

ANGUS South MSP Graeme Dey is to hold face to face discussions with Ian Walford, acting chief executive of Historic Scotland, over the decision to call a halt to wedding ceremonies being conducted within Arbroath Abbey.

This follows an exchange of correspondence between the pair on the subject, after the Arbroath Herald broke the news last month, which has offered a glimmer of hope.

In a letter to Mr Dey, Mr Walford has confirmed that Historic Scotland is now offering such services at only 22 of its 78 sites across Scotland with Arbroath Abbey not amongst those selected to continue.

Mr Walford revealed the decision was taken after Historic Scotland determined that in order to match the expectations of clients across its entire estate, the organisation would have had to invest in staffing and resources and, given what it asserted was low demand and the unsuitability of a majority of the venues, this would not have been commercially viable.

Historic Scotland therefore decided to focus on the most popular locations and as the Abbey had averaged just two ceremonies a year since 2007 it was not deemed appropriate on the grounds of demand to continue to offer marriage services there.

Mr Dey said: “According to Historic Scotland there is too little demand for the Abbey as a venue to justify investment in facilities or its promotion as a wedding ceremony location.

“However, Mr Walford has given an undertaking to continue to review the situation and should demand increase he says Historic Scotland would be happy to reconsider Arbroath Abbey as a venue for wedding ceremonies in future.

“He also offered to meet with me and discuss this and any other aspect of Arbroath Abbey and we have now arranged to get together later this month.”

Mr Dey went on: “I have already been contacted by a constituent who is desperate to have her wedding ceremony take place within the Abbey grounds in February of next year and I am sure there are other brides who would consider the Abbey an appropriate setting for their nuptials.

“I do believe that the lack of take up in recent years has been down to lack of knowledge that an opportunity to be married at the Abbey existed.

“I hope to persuade Mr Walford to at least grant a stay of execution and perhaps allow the Arbroath Abbey Action Group - which has also been in touch with Historic Scotland expressing concern over the decision - to work with his organisation in raising awareness of and promoting wedding services at the Abbey.”

In addition to engaging directly with Historic Scotland on the decision to bring an end to weddings being staged at Arbroath Abbey, Mr Dey has raised it with Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop.

He stated: “I understand that in these tough economic times difficult decisions have to be made by organisations such as Historic Scotland.

“But this is Arbroath Abbey - one of Scotland’s most iconic historic sites - we are talking about !

“Hopefully Historic Scotland will rethink this decision and grant Arbroath and the wider Angus community renewed access to the Abbey for staging wedding ceremonies, albeit on a trial, ‘use it or lose it’ basis.”

The chairman of Arbroath Abbey Action Group, Harry Ritchie, has also received a reply to a letter he sent to Ian Walford in which the acting chief executive’s statements are broadly similar to those sent to Mr Dey.

Mr Ritchie went on: “In his letter, Mr Walford states that he will monitor demand for weddings to be held at Arbroath Abbey. I would like to know how he will do this when the facility is no longer available.

“George MacKenzie of The Records Office in Edinburgh recently declared that more and more people were coming from abroad to marry in Scotland. How many of those are Americans and part of the six million who claim to have Scottish ancestry. Surely this is a market just begging to be tapped.”