Hospitality & Tourism

Published: April 24, 2020 | Updated: April 24, 2020

Bride: “We feel totally let down, devastated and misled by the wording of the contract”

The Italian Villa in Poole which was leased to Beales Gourmet Ltd, now in administration.
By Andrew Diprose, editor

Tracy Hixson and her fiancé Chris Williams read the contract very closely before booking their wedding with Beales Gourmet Ltd.

In particular, the section which said that if the gourmet catering and events company “becomes insolvent or enters into liquidation or receivership” they would be entitled to a refund of any payments made in advance.

Tracy, 51, said: “We’re in our early 50’s and have had a lot of life experiences. We were reassured by that and signed the contract.”

In the event Poole-based Beales Gourmet Ltd went into administration* on March 30 blaming the coronavirus pandemic.

And now Tracy and Chris, pictured left – as with at least 100 other couples and perhaps as many as 200 – look set to lose most if not all of the money paid for their dream day.

In their case it’s a £1,500 deposit. Others have paid for their weddings in full, as much as £10,000.

Hopes that insurance will cover the payments look set to be dashed with some companies saying they won’t pay out because of the pandemic.

“We feel totally let down, devastated and misled by the wording of the contract,” said Tracy who was due to get married at The Italian Villa at Poole’s Compton Acres on September 27.

“We’re in the middle of a global crisis and this probably seems insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

“But it was going to be the happiest day of our lives and it’s been spoiled.

“Like many others I’ve been furloughed.

“We’re trying to do our best and then this happens. I just feel so sorry for the other couples and, yes, I feel let down.”

Chris, 52, who became engaged to Tracy in Venice in December, said: “The thing I’m most vexed about is that clause in the contract.

“I’m no lawyer but I felt it gave us some kind of protection but that’s turned out to be not the case.”

Shannon Smith and her fiance Kirk Morton.

Another bride Shannon Smith, who now has 188 members for a private Facebook Group for couples affected by the collapse of Beales Gourmet said the administrator, Quantuma LLP, had asked for proof of any payments to the company.

“We’re just in a waiting game as they’ve told us it could be eight to ten weeks before we hear anything.

“It’s a terrible situation and the chances of getting anything look pretty slim.

“One couple on our group says they were being urged to make payments just days before the administration was announced.

“The way it has been handled is absolutely awful.

“People have saved for years and feel totally devastated.”

Beales Gourmet hosted wedding and corporate events at The Italian Villa.

It also provided outside catering for weddings, corporate and private functions in other locations around the UK including Lulworth Castle, Highcliffe Castle, Sopley Mill and Sunninghill House.

Approximately 250 events, including weddings, have been booked for coming months.

A total of 220 weddings were hosted at The Italian Villa last year.

David Meany and Andrew Watling, of Quantuma LLP, Joint Administrators of Beales Gourmet Limited, have now agreed the lease of The Italian Villa can be surrendered back to Compton Acres Ltd as landlord.

They described the agreement as “a creative and practical solution that will allow bookings and events to resume at The Italian Villa as soon as the government loosens the current legal [lockdown] restrictions.”

Our story which broke the news about Beales Gourmet Ltd going into administration.

The agreement does not include Beales Gourmet Ltd as a going concern.

Couples rebooking will have to pay again for their weddings as their original contract was with Beales Gourmet Ltd.

Bernard Merna, Director, Compton Acres Ltd said: “We feel for those who have booked their special days and celebrations with The Italian Villa under these disappointing circumstances.

“It has been a priority for us to speak to as many as possible personally to find out if they had event insurance or credit card protection relating to their booking.

“We have so far made over 50 phone calls to those we are aware of to discuss the situation and we are pleased that more than 45 of those individuals have already agreed to rebook The Italian Villa once we know from the government what we are able to do.

“We are extremely proud of The Italian Villa which has won many awards and witnessed hundreds of weddings and special events over the years.

“We hope we can get the Villa back on track as soon as possible to create more happy days ahead.

“We will do what we can to accommodate those who have been left in such a difficult situation.

“It was important to us at Compton Acres, ourselves a creditor of the sudden administration of Beales Gourmet, to minimise the damage by taking ourselves out of the equation, hopefully leaving a little more for those who have paid deposits for their events without insurance or credit card protection.”

Former clients of Beales Gourmet Ltd who booked their wedding or event at The Italian Villa and wish to continue to use the venue can contact Compton Acres Ltd via email at gardens@comptonacres.co.uk to discuss and explore options for rebooking.

Two former employees of Beales Gourmet Ltd who were made redundant are also being employed by Compton Acres Ltd to help with some continuity for clients of The Italian Villa.

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* So what is the difference between a company going into administration or receivership?

According to The Gazette, the official public record:

Administration protects a company from all legal actions that may be taken against it during a specified period of time (usually about 8 weeks). The appointed administrator will work to establish whether or not the company has any way of satisfying its creditors and, where possible, put a plan of action together to see it happen.

A company can be forced into receivership when a creditor pursues the necessary course of action to see that happen, in response to the non-payment of a secured loan. Effectively, the law allows a creditor to appoint a receiver to one or more of a company’s assets to give it the best chance of recovering the amounts owed.

The Gazette adds: “The most important point to have in mind regarding the distinction between administration and receivership is that the former still involves options and opportunities on the part of the insolvent company, whereas the same can’t really be said of the latter.”