FOR most of this year, Rachel Tutill and Stephen Johnston have been planning their wedding for October 30.
However, in these extraordinary times of COVID-fuelled restrictions and postponements, the engaged couple couldn't have just one lot of wedding plans. There has been Plan B. And Plan C.
But the stars have aligned, and those words, "Love is patient", have rung true.
With the easing of restrictions, Ms Tutill and Mr Johnston are confident they can push ahead with Plan A - an outdoor ceremony in Centennial Park at Cooks Hill, and a reception at Merewether Surfhouse.
"It's happening!," said Ms Tutill of her October 30 wedding. "We've just thought throughout this whole period we'll get married then, if we can."
The Charlestown couple, who became engaged "between lockdowns", decided to stick by the original plan, "so we maintained positivity and that things would return to normal".
However, as friends were forced to postpone their ceremonies during the latest lockdown, Ms Tutill and Mr Johnston devised a Plan B, searching for another date.
"It was logistically tough, trying to make things line up," Ms Tutill said. "We thought, 'What if we move things back, and then things change again for the worse?'."
Plan C involved holding a small service, with the maximum number of 11. But there were doubts the couple's loved ones could have attended. Ms Tutill's family lives in Sydney, and Mr Johnston's loved ones are in Tamworth.
With the 70 per cent double-vaccination roadmap in play from Monday, the cap on weddings is being lifted to 100. But COVID restrictions are still turning up in the wedding plans of Mr Johnston and Ms Tutill.
They originally invited 100 guests, but that has been trimmed to about 75 because of state border restrictions and vaccination rules. And the couple is still concerned about the Sydney guests being allowed to come to the ceremony - and that could still derail Plan A.
If her family couldn't come from Sydney, Ms Tutill said, "we won't be going ahead, so we're really waiting for that 80 per cent".
Once that milestone is reached, fully vaccinated people can travel from Sydney to regional areas, and there will be a further loosening of restrictions on weddings, such as dancing being allowed.
However, marriage celebrant Kerryn Tippett, from Wed By Kez, said there was still a lot of caution among couples waiting to say "I do".
"Loads of people are excited," Kez Tippett said. "However, we're still under restrictions for double vaccinations and mask wearing. So there's not a lot of confidence that weddings are returning to normal."
She said there was also the issue of checking guests' vaccination status: "What people are looking for is the time when they don't have to ask, they don't have to check."
Usually, from October to December, Kez Tippett would conduct between 24 and 30 wedding ceremonies, "maybe more". For the same period this year, she has just a handful of bookings. Kez Tippett estimated 80 per cent of this year's weddings she had been booked for had been postponed to next year and beyond.
"They want to buy themselves time and confidence," she said.
"When you've gone through that pain and resolved 'This is the date', you don't want to change. And there's still a question mark of how all this is going to go."
Robyn Donnelly, the Coordinator of Marriage and Relationship Education for Catholic Care Social Services and the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, said many couples were still "dubious" about the potential impact of COVID on their big day. So they have pushed back their wedding date by a year or more in the hope of avoiding uncertainty and more postponements.
"I've had couples change their weddings four times," Mrs Donnelly said.
The general attitude of those couples postponing their weddings was one of, "Oh well, it is what it is", she said. What's more, with education sessions going online during the pandemic, more couples had registered, as they could participate from home. COVID may have changed wedding plans, Mrs Donnelly said, but it hadn't crushed them.
"I haven't seen anyone in the almost two years who have said, 'Now we don't want to get married'," she said.
The easing of restrictions has brought a smile, and a sigh of relief, to owners of businesses drawing trade from weddings.
At the Marina Views function venue at Wickham, owners Eammaly and Guy Power are preparing for their first events since July. The venue can hold up to 300 but under the new COVID rules, the capacity is 92.
Thirteen bookings for Christmas parties and graduation ceremonies had already come in, Mrs Power said.
"I wasn't expecting it," she said. "We kind of wrote the rest of the year off."
However, a string of weddings has been moved by couples to next year. Of the 12 weddings booked for between February and April, 10 had been transferred from this year.
"We were lucky, all our brides have moved to next year," Eammaly Power said.
In Newcastle West, Andrew Rundle will be opening the doors of his Hunter Street clothing and tailoring store to customers on Monday. In the past eight weeks, he has seen trade plummet by up to 80 per cent.
"It's hard to sell a suit without serving the customer properly," Mr Rundle said. "Social-distanced selling."
Rundle Tailoring has been trading online and making face masks to help get by, but now the appointment book for buying a tailored suit or to hire formal clothes is filling up. Mr Rundle said he had 30 appointments for this week, adding "that's more than usual".
One customer who is having a suit fitting during the week is Patrick Bramble. He is to marry his partner, Danielle Downie, at Peterson House at Pokolbin on Saturday.
"It's been a bit stressful, just playing the waiting game," Mr Bramble said.
Adding to the stress were the changes to the wedding, as the COVID restrictions shifted. The number of suits required also kept shifting, from four to just one, and now back up to three.
And because of the uncertainty, the couple is holding just the ceremony and a small get-together this weekend. The reception will be held when border restrictions loosen, so Ms Downie's family can travel from Britain. But above all, Mr Bramble said, they just wanted to get married.
"Even if it was just Danielle and me, we were going to stick to the date and go ahead with it," he said.
For the next few weeks, Stephen Johnston and Rachel Tutill are taking the COVID roadmap to find their way to a future together on October 30, celebrating with loved ones they haven't seen in months.
"I think it's going to be an onslaught of emotions," said Rachel Tutill.
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