Wingham "more vibrant than ever"

Wingham Akoostik Music Festival founders and organisers, Donna and Kevin Ballard. Photo supplied

Wingham Akoostik Music Festival founders and organisers, Donna and Kevin Ballard. Photo supplied

Why we love where we live

'Why we love where we live' is a new series brought to you by the Wingham Chronicle team, where we find out from Wingham locals what it is about our town that speaks to their hearts.

To kick off the series we talked to Wingham Akoostik Music Festival founders and organisers, Donna and Kevin Ballard.

After recently returning from a trip to Sydney, Kevin and Donna Ballard were reminded why they love Wingham and don't miss city life.

"I love coming back to that total community/connected feeling. That community spirit is what I love. You probably get that in lots of small areas, but we seem to have it a lot in Wingham; there's a real bind that brings us all together, and we're a pretty determined bunch to make things happen, I find," Donna says.

Wingham is so much more vibrant now than what is was a few years ago. When we came back in 2004, there were far more empty shops than there are now.

Donna Ballard

Kevin was born in Wingham, and his wife Donna moved to Wingham from Moorland in 1983. Kevin has lived here all of his life, apart from 10 years of the couple's life when they lived elsewhere.

Neither of them now want to live anywhere else.

"Wingham is so much more vibrant now than it was a few years ago. When we came back in 2004, there were far more empty shops than there are now," Donna says.

"The cafe culture, the second hand stores - look at how many cafes there are in Wingham - boy!" Kevin says.

Donna Ballard and Julie Blanch at Akoostik. Photo: Julia Driscoll

Donna Ballard and Julie Blanch at Akoostik. Photo: Julia Driscoll

"And at Wingham Showgrounds, every month there's something on there, like the markets, the Show, Beef Week, rodeos. It's the real heart of the town, that place," Donna chimes in.

The couple are deeply involved in our community. As well as spending a lot of their free time, all year round, working on the Akoostik festival, they are both members of Wingham Chamber of Commerce.

Donna is also a committee member of Wingham Showground Trust, Manning Net, and is a member of Rotary Club of Taree's Sunrise Group. Kevin is a member of the Wingham Place Activation committee, and plays in a lot of bands that help at community events and organisations, such as Relay for Life and 2BOB FM. He is also the founder of Jam for Genes, an annual fundraiser at Wingham and Harrington for the Jeans for Genes charity.

Because of their own community work, both Kevin and Donna have a feel for and knowledge of volunteering in our town.

"When you put on an event in Wingham, there's such a spirit to the town that it always works," Kevin says.

"And there's so much volunteering in Wingham," Donna adds. "You think of all the local action groups, like the guys who go down and check on the RV camping at Wingham Brush, and keeping the museum running. There is just such a powerful group of volunteers who are determined to make a difference. I have so much admiration for them, for doing all of that. It's great.

"There just seems to be a lot of groups of volunteer people that put their heart into the town, and I think that's just beautiful."

When you put on an event in Wingham, there's such a spirit to the town that it always works.

Kevin Ballard

They are also both uniquely placed to learn what visitors think of Wingham. Akoostik brings thousands of people through the showground gates every year and, each year, the numbers keep growing.

"What I get a buzz from is that I love the people who travel from the Gold Coast, the Central Coast or wherever, and they see the town with fresh eyes," Donna says.

"They comment on things you don't even notice, like when they walk down from the showground to the main street. One of them said to me, 'oh, these houses!' as we walked down Canget Street and back up - those beautiful old houses and they're all so beautifully restored. You think that's probably what every country town is like, but maybe it's not!"

Kevin Ballard (left) with regular Akoostik artist Dom Turner, of Backsliders and the Turner Brown Band, and an Akoostik crew member. Photo: Julia Driscoll

Kevin Ballard (left) with regular Akoostik artist Dom Turner, of Backsliders and the Turner Brown Band, and an Akoostik crew member. Photo: Julia Driscoll

They're also very knowledgeable about the music scene.

"Wingham, musically, it's unique," Kevin says. "It's always produced a lot of musicians and music groups. And look at Queen Street Hall that Sandra Kwa's running.

"The only working venue for live music in Taree and Wingham, is Wingham at the Top Pub! It's the only one. And it's been consistent.

"Wingham really does seem to have a spirit when it does things, it really does. I think it's just a trait that Wingham's always had."

Donna agrees. "There's so much music and culture in Wingham, it's so true."