A Somerset couple enjoyed their dream wedding this week, thanks to people across Weston who came together to help organise the event at short notice after the bride-to-be was admitted to Weston Hospicecare.
Claire Rutter and Rob Cope exchanged vows in front of dozens of family and friends at an emotional ceremony at Batch Country Hotel in Lympsham on Wednesday.
The couple have been together for nine years, and had enjoyed a running joke about which of them should propose to the other – but the decision was effectively taken out of their hands when Claire was diagnosed with inoperable cancer and admitted to the hospice’s in-patient unit in Uphill.
Mum-of-three Claire, aged 37, said: “I have always wanted to get married, but am a bit of a traditionalist and wanted Rob to ask me – but every time a leap year came around he would joke that I could ask him if I wanted.
“In the end, we were sitting in the hospice garden, and I realised the one thing I really wanted to do was get married.”
That was just three weeks ago. With little time to prepare, Claire and 39-year-old Rob feared her hopes of a ‘fairytale wedding’ would be impossible – but they found help from a wide number of people, including some unexpected sources.
Claire’s mum Katrina, brother Dave-Lee and sisters Trudy and Donna all played big roles in putting the wedding together, while a host of friends contributed money and specialist skills too.
But the wider community made big contributions as well.
The Axentis Michael Memorial Trust – a fund set up in memory of the father of Grand Pier owners Kerry and Michelle Michael – gave the couple £1,500 towards their big day, while Batch Hotel also waived some costs and discounted other services.
Bridal boutique White Lace and Promises offered a deal on Claire’s dress, while So Gorgeous did similar for the bridesmaids and groom. The hospice’s Short Break Fund, established by the family of a former patient, paid for their wedding night hotel stay, too.
Town centre jeweller F Hinds even discounted their wedding rings, after Rob made the proposal official by going down on one knee in the store when they picked out Claire’s engagement ring.
The happy Burnham-on-Sea couple say they have been overwhelmed by the ‘unbelievable generosity’ from around the community which helped shape their ‘perfect day’.
Claire said: “It was amazing, even better than we could ever have wished for. We really wanted it to be a magical day and people really came together – it’s hard to put into words how grateful we are.
“I don’t think we could have done it any better if we’d had 18 months to plan it, like people usually do.”
And Rob added: “We were really amazed at how well it all came together. We were so happy with it all – it was overwhelming really.”
Daughters Katie, aged 14, two-year-old Florence, and 18-month-old Lettie-Mae acted as bridesmaids, and it is for them that Claire and Rob were keen for their story to be shared – the couple are making memory boxes for the girls to enjoy in years to come.
It will include letters from Claire to the girls to be opened on landmark occasions like milestone birthdays and wedding days, and other keepsakes too.
Claire says she knows that ‘will be hard’ but insists it is something she wants to do in the wake of her diagnosis, which includes tumours on many of her bones and cancer now in her liver and brain lining.
Claire said: “I’m a very positive person. A lot of people have been shocked by how well I’ve taken it. But there’s no point in me being angry with the illness – that will only take up the energy I need to fight.
“It’s about quality of life, not quantity. I just want my family and my girls to see that I have done my very best and I am not going to give up.”
Claire has returned to the hospice since the wedding, and was keen to highlight the support she has received.
She said: “It’s been fantastic here – absolutely amazing. I feel safe here, and can’t fault anything.
“Before I came here, I could feel my body going – but here, that has stopped. You know when your time is coming, and I don’t feel that any more. I have been able to relax.
“I don’t think enough people know about this place – it needs all the support it can get.”
Weston Hospicecare’s in-patient unit manager Jill Nash says the charity’s staff have been touched by Claire’s positivity.
Jill said: “Everyone at Weston Hospicecare has been delighted to have been able to help facilitate such a special day for Claire and Rob.
“We have supported them to ensure they had what they needed, so everything ran smoothly for them.
“Claire and Rob are a lovely couple who have touched us all. It has been a privilege and joy to share this with them, in a small way. Their calmness, warmth and positivity has been inspiring.”