A COUPLE from Waterlooville are celebrating winning a dream winter wedding at luxury New Forest venue following nationwide competition.

To celebrate its 1,000th wedding, Balmer Lawn Hotel & Spa, a four-star wedding venue in the New Forest, launched a contest to give away a free winter wedding to one lucky couple.

Following the casting of more than 6,000 online votes, Kerri Vinall and Sam Stokes emerged as the winning couple with 33 percent of the share – equating to just over 2,000 votes.

Commenting on their win, Sam and Kerri said: “We couldn’t believe it when we were told we’d won. We’re absolutely thrilled! It’s so exciting to think we can start planning a wedding in earnest.

The New Forest holds many happy memories for us, so we’re delighted to invite our friends and family there to celebrate our big day – once the plans are further along of course.”

Having whittled down dozens of hopeful entries into a top 10, the hotel presented them to the public – allowing them to determine the worthiest winner once they’d had a chance to read the individual stories of the finalists.

Winners Sam and Kerri, have been together for two and a half years, having started out as a workplace romance – with the fires of love kindled at a colleague’s party. From there those fires have only got stronger, with the couple having got engaged and now with a baby recently added to their family of six.

The win now sees them set to marry at Balmer Lawn Hotel next winter, under the guidance of Ruth Mundy, the hotel’s dedicated wedding co-ordinator, who will ensure their planning goes perfectly.

The couple added: “Winter in the New Forest is a beautiful time of year, so we’ll be hoping for some snowfall to add that extra element to our wedding photography. But it’s wonderful to know our dream wedding can now start to become a reality.”

Second and third placed couples – Rachael Bailey and Beonard Kola with 20 percent of the vote share, and Emma Keyworth and Duncan Broomfield with 15 percent – have also won a £1,000 discount off a Balmer Lawn wedding.

Balmer Lawn Hotel & Spa invited couples to use 1,000 characters to outline why they should win, a bit of their back story and their favourite song as a couple, along with the meaning behind it, to help present their case. The entries were then presented online for the public to submit votes.

The winning prize covers the cost of catering for up to 50 guests, including arrival drinks, a three-course meal, glass of wine per person, tea and coffee, evening buffet, and wedding video – adding up to a prize value of more than £5,000.

Michael Clitheroe, General Manager at Balmer Lawn Hotel, said: “It’s a fantastic feeling to give away a wedding – and we’re really looking forward to helping Sam and Kerri plan their big day.

“Given the size of the vote share, it’s fair to say they’re very worthy winners and clearly the popular option amongst the public.

“We’ll now start putting the appropriate plans in place to ensure they have a truly wonderful day when the time comes around.”