People are being offered the chance to be part of a new chapter in a historic venue for weddings, ceremonies and other celebrations.

Bookings are now being taken for ceremonies at Southover Grange, in Lewes, which opens its doors on Saturday, April 29 after a £1.5 million refurbishment by East Sussex County Council.

To mark the reopening, the council has launched a competition offering people the chance to take part in the first ceremonies at the refurbished 16th century manor house. The successful applicants will win the right to have either the first wedding, civil partnership, renewal of marriage vows or baby-naming ceremony at the venue on opening day.

Meanwhile, the first 20 new British citizens successfully applying for their citizenship ceremony at Southover Grange will form part of the first group citizenship ceremony on the same date.
Cllr Chris Dowling, county council lead member for community services, said: “The restoration has breathed new life into a stunning period building while maintaining its unique character. “We’re delighted to be in a position where we’re now taking bookings for ceremonies and celebrations at Southover Grange, which will provide a fantastic backdrop to a special day. This competition will allow people to be part of history and for their ceremony to be the first of its kind at the newly-refurbished venue.”

People wishing to enter the competition to have their ceremony held at Southover Grange on reopening day will be asked to complete a statement of no more than one A4 side explaining why they should be selected. The prize winners will have their ceremonies held free of charge, with the registrars officiating, on opening day, and can invite up to 55 guests.

Details of how to enter and full terms and conditions for the completion can be found at eastsussex People can book their ceremonies from Sunday 30 April onwards, or find more information about the registration service in East Sussex online at registration or by calling 0345 60 80 198.

Customers can also book other services alongside their ceremony, including a VIP suite for use before their ceremony, a drinks toast for all their guests after their ceremony or even an exclusive wedding reception within the building.

Southover Grange – 16th century manor house to 21st century venue

Southover Grange was built in 1572 as a private residence for William Newton, Steward to the Earl of Dorset, using stone from the ruins of the nearby Lewes Priory. A Grade I-listed building since 1952, the Grange was previously owned by Lewes District Council but transferred to East Sussex County Council, which previously leased part of the first floor for its registration office, in 2014.

The two-year refurbishment project has seen the three ground floor rooms and central hall transformed into wedding function facilities, with a former flat brought into use as a VIP suite for wedding and civil partnership ceremonies. A new lift and staircase have been installed to improve access to the first floor, where registration facilities have been renovated, while the building’s kitchen and toilets have also been refurbished.

A new community space available for rent by local groups has been created in the Newton Room. The building continues to house a shop and gallery for the Sussex Guild – a partnership of artists and craftsmen – and a cafe in use during the summer months. While the building has been closed for refurbishment, registration services have been offered at Westfield House, in the grounds of County Hall, while register office ceremonies have been offered at Lewes Town Hall.