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Couples look to Norfolk in favour of ‘less appealing’ Ely register office  

Ely register office is not performing well in terms of attracting couples to get married.

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Couples are boycotting Ely register office – and losing the county council income – through “lack of capacity and ceremony rooms that are less appealing than those in neighbouring Norfolk”. Now Cambridgeshire County Council is hoping to find somewhere in Ely to host weddings other than the register office which is based in the archives centre at The Dock in Angel Drove.

The annual report of Cambridgeshire registration service – discussed today by the communities, social mobility, and inclusion committee – admits that Ely is not performing well in terms of attracting couples to get married.

“In order to meet demand in the locality and raise additional revenue, the service is progressing a proposal to add additional ceremony capacity in Ely through the council’s budget setting process,” says the report.

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2019 testimonial for Ely register office

2019 testimonial for Ely register office

“It is known that the service is increasingly losing customers and valuable income to neighbouring local authorities due to a combination of lack of capacity and ceremony rooms that are less appealing than those in neighbouring Norfolk.”

A council spokesperson told CambsNews: “The move to The Ely Archives happened in September 2019, and the numbers for 2020, 2021, and 2022 are all significantly affected by the pandemic so are not useful comparisons.

“In 2023, The Ely Archives hosted 71 ceremonies (the first full year of normal service at this location). Currently, there are 47 bookings for 2024.”

Number of ceremonies held there since it opened in 2019:

2020 – 35, Covid

2021 – 180, covid catchup (ceremonies moved from other locations – numbers not reflective of demand for Ely venues)

2022 – 175, covid catchup (as above)

2023 – 71

The county council provided comparison to the number of ceremonies held at Market Street prior to relocation.

2013 – 95

2014 – 100

2015 – 88

2016 – 110 

2017- 91

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2018 – 102

The spokesperson added: “The council is currently looking for a suitable alternative location to lease in Ely, initially as a pilot, to deliver additional ceremonies in the area. “

Today’s report says that the right location in Ely “would provide an opportunity to increase revenue into the service, that generated exceeding the costs associated with implementation”.

The proposal is to undertake a 12- month trial, which the council believes would then inform more permanent arrangements, subject to its success.

Before any decision can be made the committee was told the strategic asset property board will be part of the scrutiny and approval process.

This, says the report, is “in line with the council’s approach to the use of property assets and the need for careful consideration before any new leases are considered”.

Ely archives centre that also includes Ely register office

Ely archives centre that also includes Ely register office

At the moment Cambridgeshire has full time registration offices in Cambridge, Ely, and Huntingdon.

There are part-time registration offices in March and Wisbech. In addition, there are 79 approved venues across Cambridgeshire, which are independent venues licenced to hold ceremonies.

The council provides the officers to conduct ceremonies at these venues.

When the register office moved in Ely – into what is the former Strikes bowling alley – there was considerable opposition locally.

Councillors were advised that the new office would feature a “pleasant external area for registration guests”.

Moving the register office from Market Street to the new centre was also expected to save the council £23,000 a year.

Overall, however, the county council is still paying a high price for moving the archives centre to Ely and then adding the register office to it.

As far back as 2016 the council was admitting budget failings as it tried to cover soaring costs involving in the archives centre move.

The then assets and investment committee won consent to increase total borrowing by £860,000 – meaning total renovation costs passed £5m.

The committee determined there were failings with the original cost estimate and the process used.

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