'I nearly died, it was the best thing that happened to me' – Kent Online

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05:00, 26 June 2022
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A Kent carpenter says that enduring a horrific accident eight years ago was the best thing to ever happen to him.
John Wingate, from Ditton, was motivated after nearly being crushed to death, to leave his old job and create a skateboard shop and festival with his wife Elizabeth.
The couple show us round Blue Reef and chat about their upcoming festival
Back in October 2014, John suffered a punctured lung, broken ribs and a lacerated liver after he became pinned down by a two-tonne wood-cutting machine.

The 53-year-old said: “I was getting crushed, everything was mangled up in the machine except from my right arm.
“Luckily for me I managed to find the stop button myself, as the guy that was with me went into a complete panic and didn’t know what to do.”
Firefighters from the technical rescue unit spent 40 minutes freeing him from the machinery using specialist lifting gear.
John said: “I stayed concious throughout the whole thing. I couldn’t communicate because I couldn’t breathe, I had no lung capacity at all.
“I really thought I was going to die – that was it, completely game over – I wouldn’t see my family again.”
“What a horrible way to go.”
John was taken by the Air Ambulance up to King’s College Hospital, where after 48 hours he suffered a cardio respiratory attack and had to be resuscitated.
“That was actually harder to deal with than the accident,” he explains.
“I had no control over it – I even struggled going to sleep afterwards, it was hard psychologically.
“It took three weeks in intensive care and six months at home. I couldn’t walk very far, or do much at all really.
“I still suffer with chronic pain now, between my stomach and ribs. It doesn’t stop me from doing anything and isn’t unbearable, but every now and then can feel it.”
Despite everything he has been through, John believes that the accident was the best thing to have ever happened to him.
He said: “Some people think I am crazy saying it but it’s true, it was a real life-changing thing.
“In a weird way, it makes you see life differently, and it’s about living – whether it is hard or easy, I just want to live.”
John now runs “Blue Reef” with his wife Elizabeth, 49, in Loddington Farm, Linton.
The part skateboard shop, part cafe and workshop initially came from their love of the seaside and surfing down in Cornwall.
Liz said: “We had spoken about it before and you always put things off to another day, because you think there will be another day.
“But it made us both realise, so we had a chat and decided to go for it.
“John used to surf, and where his stomach muscles were affected by the accident, it was now too painful to paddle out.
“So he built himself a skateboard to get that adrenalin rush again, and that’s how the passion started.”
John added: “I wanted a longboard, but couldn’t find one to my liking, so I made one myself!
“People saw what I was doing, asked for me to make them one and it just evolved from there.”
John’s skateboards take around 10 hours to make, but the process varies on the complexity of the design – with prices varying 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 from The Gadget Show and also Jack Bessant, bass player from 90’s rock band Reef.
He commented: “Since I started making these boards, my life has completely changed – not in the monetary sense, but the quality of life and experiences.
“It just evolved over the years, we never planned to have a skate shop, or a festival, but we just didn’t stop ourselves and started saying yes to things.
“You get into a frame of mind that it can’t be any worse than what has already happened.”
Liz added: “Through doing this we have met so many amazing, inspirational and creative people.
“It has literally opened the doors to another world.”
Last year the couple celebrated the businesses 10th anniversary, and ended up hosting what was originally a small party with friends, that eventually turned into a full-blown 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 campervans lined the field, and a skate ramp was put in place to display demos from some of the of UK’s top skaters and BMX riders.
This year, Elizabeth and John plan on going even better – extending the festival to three days and running music on both Friday and Saturday, with 12 extra acts booked.
Liz said: “Last year was the first time we had done anything like that, and we were really overwhelmed at how well it had gone. It was a lovely atmosphere.
“It was going to be a one off, but we had such a good response, people loved it.
“We have got on board the best local producers, street food and artists – we are surrounded by inspiring independent businesses.
“The farm itself is run by a family who are passionate about regenerative farming and also run Owlet Fruit Juices.”
John added: “We would like the festival to stay 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 local families and people. It should be better not bigger.”
This year the couple will be raising money for a skate park, which will be next to the property in a nearby orchard and is planned to be used by the local community.
After reflecting back on the accident in 2011, John says it’s amazing to realise what they have achieved.
He said: “Because you spend most of the time spinning plates and fighting fires, you forget that you’re moving forward.
“When I was laying in my hospital bed, you start thinking – if I had died, what would anyone have remembered me for?
“It looked like I’d done nothing with my life, because there was nothing there.
“Almost now we are sort of leaving a legacy behind.”
Blue Reef Festival takes place between Friday, 15, to Sunday, 17 July, at Loddington Farm in Linton.
Tickets range from £50 to £75, find out more here.
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