Ditton couple create “Blue Reef Festival” and business after husband’s freak accident

A carpenter from Kent says that being in a terrible accident eight years ago was the best thing that ever happened to him.

John Wingate of 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 pair show us Blue Reef and chat about their upcoming festival.

In October 2014, John suffered a punctured lung, broken ribs, and a lacerated liver after he was pinned by a two-ton wood-cutting machine.

The 53-year-old said: “I was being crushed, everything was shattered on the machine except my right arm.

“Luckily for me I managed to find the stop button myself as the guy with me panicked and didn’t know what to do.”

Firefighters from the technical rescue unit took 40 minutes to free him from the machinery using specialized lifting equipment.

John said: “I stayed conscious throughout the process. I couldn’t communicate because I couldn’t breathe, I had no lung capacity at all.

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

“I really thought I was going to die, that was it, it was completely game over, I would never see my family again.”

“What a horrible way to go.”

John was taken by Air Ambulance to King’s College Hospital, where after 48 hours he suffered a cardiorespiratory failure and had to be resuscitated.

“That was actually more difficult to deal with than the accident,” he explains.

“I had no control over it, I even had trouble sleeping afterwards, it was difficult psychologically.

John had to undergo months of recovery after sustaining horrific injuries in a wood-cutting machine accident.  Image: Elizabeth Wingate
John had to undergo months of recovery after sustaining horrific injuries in a wood-cutting machine accident. Image: Elizabeth Wingate
The 53-year-old thanks the Air Ambulance, which saved his life in October 2011. Image: Elizabeth Wingate
The 53-year-old thanks the Air Ambulance, which saved his life in October 2011. Image: Elizabeth Wingate

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

“I still have chronic pain now, between my stomach and my ribs. It doesn’t stop me from doing anything and it’s not unbearable, but from time to time I can feel it.”

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

He said: “Some people think I’m crazy to say it, but it’s true, it was something that really changed my life.

“In a weird way, it makes you look at 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 cafe where passionate enthusiasts can meet
The Blue Reef skate shop also has a cafe where passionate enthusiasts can meet
The Blue Reef skate shop in Linton has been open since June of last year
The Blue Reef skate shop in Linton has been open since June of last year

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

Part skateboard shop, part cafe and workshop initially grew out of his love of the beach 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 us both realize, so we had a chat and decided to give it a try.

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

The range of skateboards on display in the store, available to try and buy
The range of skateboards on display in 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 began.”

John added: “I wanted a longboard but couldn’t find one I liked so I made one myself!

“People saw what I was doing, asked me to make one for them, and it just 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, The Gadget Show’s Jason Bradbury and also Jack Bessant, bassist for ’90s rock band Reef.

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

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

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

“You put yourself in a state of mind that it can’t be worse than what’s already happened.”

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

“It has literally opened the doors to another world.”

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

Last year, the couple celebrated the company’s 10th anniversary and ended up throwing what was originally 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 field, and a skate ramp was set up to showcase demos from some of the UK’s best skaters and BMX riders.

This year, Elizabeth and John plan to do even better: extend the festival to three days and feature music on Fridays and Saturdays, with an additional 12 acts booked.

Liz said: “Last year was the first time we’d done something like this, and we were really blown away by how well it went. It was a lovely atmosphere.

Some 2,000 people attended last year's Blue Reef Festival near Maidstone.  Photographer: Richard Butters
Some 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 one of a kind, but we had such a great response that 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 with a passion for regenerative agriculture and they also run Owlet Fruit Juices.”

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

“We want it to be a really good experience for families and local people. It should be better, not 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 money for a skate park, which will be attached to the property in a nearby orchard and is planned to be used by the local community.

After reflecting on the 2011 accident, John says it’s amazing to realize what they’ve accomplished.

He said: “Because you spend most of your time turning plates and putting out fires, you forget that you’re making progress.

“When I was lying in my hospital bed, you started thinking: if I had died, why would anyone have remembered me?

“It seemed like I hadn’t done anything with my life, because there was nothing there.

This year's Blue Reef Festival will take place from July 15-17.  Image: Elizabeth Wingate
This year’s Blue Reef Festival will take place from July 15-17. Image: Elizabeth Wingate

“We are almost now leaving a legacy.”

Blue Reef Festival takes place between Friday 15th and Sunday 17th July at Loddington Farm in Linton.

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

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