A MUM-of-two who found love the second time around through the Lost and Found columns of her local newspaper, is using her new business to pioneer unique ideas – celebrating relationships!
Celebrant Ali Fleming, from Ashby-de-la-Zouch, has become the first in the UK to offer a bespoke Harmony Glass ceremony at her weddings and funerals.
The highly personalised experience – the latest to be launched by CARIAD Personal Ceremonies – marks a new collaboration with local glass artist Kayleigh Young from Market Bosworth and can even provide memorials containing a loved one’s ashes.
Guests at funerals, weddings and other ceremonies are invited to come forward and pour pre-selected coloured glass crystals into a receptacle to create a bespoke piece of art to mark the occasion.
This is later blown into a chosen design at Kayleigh’s studio at Shenton Railway Station where relatives are also given the option of adding ashes into the piece to create a truly bespoke memorial following a funeral.
Ali, 61, said: “I’m always on the lookout for the chance to offer a mini ceremony within a ceremony. My big focus is also on the guests. The couple give a lot of thought and time to who they want with them on their day.
“The guests are often sat there bored, waiting for the bar to open, looking at the couple’s backs. I love to write the ceremony so the guests themselves can be involved in the process. And over the years I’ve come up with lots of different ideas to help it all flow.
“Harmony Glass is written specially into the ceremony with music playing and the family come forward and, at the same time, pour their chosen individual coloured crystals into a glass receptacle which then gets sent to the studio to be transformed into their chosen piece of glass art. They can also order a video of it being made if they want to.
“There are also six smaller pieces that can be made into unique gifts for members of the wedding party, such as baubles and paperweights etc.”
Kayleigh said the ashes memorials were also becoming a more popular choice among the bereaved.
She added: “They help people have a small piece of their loved one displayed in a beautiful way without the need to have an urn or a wooden box sat on the mantelpiece. It also enables people to scatter the remainder of the ashes if they want to.”
The Harmony Glass Experience is one of several ceremonies CARIAD offers as part of weddings, funerals and baby namings, others including Ring Warming (passing rings around the family or guests to warm in their hands while thinking loving thoughts); Handfasting (Binding hands in symbolically coloured ribbons); Sand Ceremony (guests unite to pour different coloured sands into a shaped receptacle); and Tree of Life (guests write heartfelt messages onto wooden hearts or doves and hang them on a steel tree to create a special memento.)
The latest collaboration marks a proud chapter for entrepreneur Ali who continues to expand the business she established in her mid-fifties following a return to education.
“It was all a bit of a shock being a single mum at the age of 36. I realised at this point I was going to have a carve out my own career to pay for the boys so I moved back to my home town to be near my parents and decided to take an intensive A-level course and then studied a degree. This involved me having to study in Leicester so I then uprooted myself and the two boys again,” she said.
“I met my second husband Paul through a lost and found newspaper column in the Leicester Mercury. It was love at first sight! We often say we don’t know who was lost and who was found!’
“When we were planning for our wedding we went to visit a register office and I was really taken with it. I said to Paul afterwards, ‘that looks like a really nice job.’
“About three months I noticed they were advertising for staff at Leicestershire Registration Service so I applied. The interview process took place in the same room we got married in!”
After working as a registrar for 12 years, it was while helping plan her best friend’s wedding, that an ambitious Alison encountered what she describes as her ‘lightbulb moment.’
She said: “She wanted to get married in her garden and we planned a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. There were so many unique themed and personalised elements they wanted, such as a string quartet and the children to do readings.
“It was absolutely amazing and I thought to myself afterwards, why can’t this be done all the time? Registration is very rigid and celebrancy is the complete opposite. You have carte blanche to do whatever you like with the couple.
“So I booked myself in on some residential training while I was still working and took the leap into self-employment as a celebrant.
And so CARIAD was born.
The Welsh word for love, CARIAD (Ceremonies And Rituals In Any Destination) was also so-named as a romantic tribute to her own love story – with Welsh husband Paul.
She said: “The most rewarding part of the weddings for me is the journey you go on with the couples, which can be up to two years, and the privilege of working so closely with them. You get to know them as if you’re a member of the family or a close friend.
“When I see everybody all assembled in a ceremony and the bride walking down the aisle I love looking back and the scene gives me goose bumps. It’s lovely be part of such a wonderful journey. I call this a vocation, not a job.”
But this year has brought the work of celebrants into even sharper focus as they’ve seen first-hand the raw, and often devastating, effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since lockdown Ali has helped 14 couples rearrange their postponed wedding ceremonies and, although herself forced to shield due to Paul’s underlying health conditions, says many of her colleagues conducting funerals have been through a challenging time.
She said: “I know many celebrants who went through funerals with families and it was heartbreaking with the restrictions on the number of guests allowed. There was no contact allowed with the coffin and most relatives had to rely on experiencing the funeral through a virtual link.
“I was relieved it was something I didn’t have to be a part of because I know it was very traumatic and exhausting for a lot of celebrants and many of them had to take time out and seek counselling.”
But Ali is now looking forward to the next chapter for CARIAD with high hopes for the Harmony Glass Experience launch.
She said: “In funeral services nobody comes forward and does anything. In your traditional chapel or crematorium ceremony, everybody sits and there’s no interaction so the fact that during a quiet time of reflection in the service there is the opportunity there for family members to come forward and do the blending of glass and have the ashes added at a later stage, is unique.”
Harmony Glass gift vouchers are also available to purchase.
And her advice to others contemplating a new enterprise?
“If you’ve got that drive and determination then go for it because you’ll always regret it if you don’t. There is no better time than now. And there is so much help out there with business start-ups and free advice.”
Visit CARIAD Personal Ceremonies at: www.harmonyglass.co.uk