Ditton Couple Start ‘Blue Reef Festival’ and Business After Husband Suffers Freak Accident

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A Kent carpenter says suffering a horrific accident eight years ago was the best thing that ever happened to him.

John Wingate, from Ditton, was motivated after nearly being crushed to death, to quit his old job and start a skateboard shop and festival with his wife Elizabeth.

The couple show us around Blue Reef and discuss their upcoming festival

In October 2014, John suffered a punctured lung, broken ribs and lacerated liver after being pinned down by a two-tonne wood-chopping machine.

The 53-year-old said: “I was getting run over, everything was mauled in the machine except my right arm.

“Fortunately for me, I managed to find the stop button myself, because the guy who was with me completely freaked out and didn’t know what to do.”

Firefighters from the technical rescue unit spent 40 minutes freeing him from the machinery using specialized lifting gear.

John said: “I remained conscious the whole time. I couldn’t communicate because I couldn’t breathe, I had no lung capacity.

John and Elizabeth Wingate have been running Blue Reef for over 10 years

“I really thought I was going to die – that was it, completely over – I wouldn’t see my family again.”

“What a horrible way to do it.”

John was taken by Air Ambulance to King’s College Hospital, where after 48 hours he suffered a cardiopulmonary attack and required resuscitation.

“It was actually more difficult to manage than the accident,” he explains.

“I had no control over it – I even had trouble falling asleep afterwards, it was psychologically hard.

John must have had months of recuperation after sustaining horrific injuries from an accident with a wood chopping machine.  Photo: Elizabeth Wingate
John must have had months of recuperation after sustaining horrific injuries from an accident with a wood chopping machine. Photo: Elizabeth Wingate
The 53-year-old thanks the Air Ambulance, which saved his life in October 2011. Photo: Elizabeth Wingate
The 53-year-old thanks the Air Ambulance, which saved his life in October 2011. Photo: Elizabeth Wingate

“It took three weeks in intensive care and six months at home. I couldn’t walk very far, or really do much.

“I still suffer from chronic pain between my stomach and ribs. It doesn’t stop me from doing anything and it’s not unbearable, but once in a while I feel it.”

Despite everything he’s been through, John thinks the accident is the best thing that ever happened to him.

He said: “Some people think I’m crazy for saying this, but it’s true, it was really life changing.

“In a weird way it makes you see life differently, and it’s about living – whether it’s hard or easy, I just want to live.”

The Blue Reef skate shop also has a café where enthusiasts can meet
The Blue Reef skate shop also has a café where enthusiasts can meet
The Blue Reef skate shop in Linton has been open since June last year
The Blue Reef skate shop in Linton has been open since June last year

John now runs ‘Blue Reef’ with his wife Elizabeth, 49, at Loddington Farm, Linton.

Part skateboard shop, part cafe and workshop was originally born out of their love of the seaside and surfing in Cornwall.

Liz said: “We’ve talked about it before and you always put things off for another day because you think there will be another day.

“But it made both of us understand, so we talked and decided to go.

“John used to surf, and where his abdominal muscles had been affected by the accident, it was now too painful to paddle.

The range of skateboards on display at the store, available to try and buy
The range of skateboards on display at the store, available to try and buy
John's workshop next to the skate shop, where he works on a variety of projects
John’s workshop next to the skate shop, where he works on a variety of projects

“So he built himself a skateboard to get that adrenaline rush back, and that’s how the passion started.”

John added: “I wanted a longboard but couldn’t find one to my liking so I built one myself!

“People saw what I was doing, asked me to do one and it evolved from there.”

John’s skateboards take around 10 hours to make, but the process varies depending on the complexity of the design – with prices ranging from £100 to £300.

The carpenter has now made custom longboards for the likes of British motorcycle racer Scott Redding, Scottish racer John McPhee, Jason Bradbury of The Gadget Show and also Jack Bessant, bassist for 90s rock band Reef.

John Wingate with British motorcycle racer Scott Redding, posing with John's handmade longboard.  Photo: Elizabeth Wingate
John Wingate with British motorcycle racer Scott Redding, posing with John’s handmade longboard. Photo: Elizabeth Wingate

He commented: “Since I started making these boards, my life has completely changed – not in the monetary sense, but in the quality of life and experiences.

“It just evolved over the years, we never planned on having a skate shop or a festival, but we didn’t stop and start saying yes to certain things.

“You get into a mindset that this can’t be worse than what has already happened.”

Liz added: “Through this we have met so many amazing, inspiring and creative people.

“He literally opened the doors to another world.”

Blue Reef Festival back in 2021. Photographer: Richard Butters
Blue Reef Festival back in 2021. Photographer: Richard Butters

Last year, the couple celebrated the company’s 10th anniversary and ended up throwing what started out as a small party with friends, which eventually turned into a full-fledged festival.

On July 21, 2,000 residents enjoyed a day of live music, acoustic stages and a dance tent.

Hundreds of classic cars and VW camper vans lined the pitch, and a skate ramp was set up to display demos from some of the UK’s best skateboarders and BMX riders.

This year, Elizabeth and John plan to go even better – extending the festival to three days and playing music on Friday and Saturday, with 12 additional acts booked.

Liz said: “Last year was the first time we did something like this, and we were really overwhelmed with how well it turned out. It was a nice atmosphere.

About 2,000 people attended last year's Blue Reef Festival near Maidstone.  Photographer: Richard Butters
About 2,000 people attended last year’s Blue Reef Festival near Maidstone. Photographer: Richard Butters
Live and acoustic acts performed at the festival.  Photographer: Richard Butters
Live and acoustic acts performed at the festival. Photographer: Richard Butters

“It was going to be unique, but we had such a great response, people loved it.

“We have the best local producers, street food and artists on board – we are surrounded by inspiring independent businesses.

“The farm itself is run by a family who are passionate about regenerative agriculture and who also run Owlet Fruit Juices.”

John added: “We’d like to keep the festival quite small and don’t want it to be much bigger than we are now.

“We want to make it a really good experience for families and locals. It should be better not to be bigger.”

The festival combines the couple's two passions - skateboarding and music.  Photographer: Richard Butters
The festival combines the couple’s two passions – skateboarding and music. Photographer: Richard Butters

This year the couple will raise funds for a skate park, which will be next to the property in a nearby orchard and is expected to be used by the local community.

Looking back on the crash in 2011, John says it’s amazing to see what they’ve accomplished.

He said: “Because you spend most of your time spinning plates and fighting fires, you forget you’re moving forward.

“When I was lying in my hospital bed, you start thinking – if I was dead, why would anyone remember me?

“It looked like I had done nothing with my life, because there was nothing there.

This year, the Blue Reef Festival will take place from July 15 to 17.  Photo: Elizabeth Wingate
This year, the Blue Reef Festival will take place from July 15 to 17. Photo: Elizabeth Wingate

“Almost now we’re kind of leaving a legacy behind.”

The Blue Reef Festival takes place from Friday 15th to Sunday 17th July at Loddington Farm in Linton.

Tickets range from £50 to £75, find out more here.

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