Perfect man – check, engagement ring – check, venue – check, wedding dress… how much?! It’s a sad fact that the average British wedding can price would-be brides and grooms out of their dream day. According to  the average wedding in the UK can cost anything from £15,000 to £25,000.


With the cost of weddings at such sky-high prices, savvy brides-to-be are searching out ways to cut the cost of weddings, but not the quality.

They’re turning to places like Oxfam for help. The charity’s bridal department in Poole offers over 250 ex-catwalk and showroom gowns at a fraction of their original designer price tag. So gone are the days where women have to beg the bank for a loan just to feel amazing on their big day.

The donated dresses are sample gowns; they have been tried on but never worn down the aisle. There are now 11 Oxfam stores which have a bridal shop department, and over the past four years, the bridal outlet in Poole alone has raised £157,000 for the charity.

It all started in the eighties with volunteer Barbara Walmsley, 74, who set up a wedding unit in her own spare room. She is now the bridal department co-ordinator for Oxfam.

€œPeople have great misconceptions about our dresses; this is not tatty old nylon stuff, the majority of the stock is from bridal shops. We did get a £4,500 dress from Harrods which we sold for just £800.


The enterprise started after Barbara couldn’t believe the cost of wedding gowns when one of her daughters got married.

Barbara laughingly said: “Recycling is the name of the game, it’s simply superior recycling, I am chief beggar for Oxfam, the letters go out to bridal shops in my name and we aim to sell dresses at a quarter to a third of the price.â€?

Barbara has been a volunteer with Oxfam since the age of 16 and even when she was a teacher by day, people would still visit her in the evening to try and find their special dress.

Although most designers prefer to remain anonymous with their donations, Oxfam have had gowns given from the gorgeous Sophia Tolli collection and the infamous designs of Jimmy Choo have also graced their shelves.

Yvonne Meston, Manager of Oxfam, Poole told BHbeat: “We want the bride to feel like this is the beginning of her special experience. We try and make the room look like a bridal room, with the same ambiance and sense of luxury rather than just putting the dresses on the shop floor.â€?

Married in 2008, Lisa Sullivan, from Christchurch, bought her wedding dress from Oxfam for only £250, and she couldn’t be happier with her purchase.

My mum said she would buy my dress and I couldn’t justify spending a huge amount of her money on it so we tried the charity shop. I love my dress, especially the pattern. It’s got diamante surfing flowers on it, so not traditional, but lovely, and well worth the money!

She continued: “It’s nice to think that your purchase has helped someone because obviously the money goes to those who need it.â€?


Starting in May and running through to September, the wedding season brings excitement to the marriage industry as hundreds of blushing brides plan their perfect day. With over 200,000 weddings taking place in the UK annually, and about 600 of those happening right here in Bournemouth (according to the latest figures by Bournemouth’s Registration and Coroner’s Service), neither hard financial times nor heavy showers can dampen the determined spirits of future brides who want the perfect day.