Operating for the good of the community has been the driving force for one Swindon-based community transport company, which is marking its tenth anniversary.
Akcess, a community interest company (CIC), specialises in special needs school transport and transport for wheelchair users and elderly people with mobility problems. It is proof that a community-minded business can thrive, having become so successful that in the last 12 months it has had to relocate from Royal Wootton Bassett to a much larger site at Elgin, Swindon, increasing both the number of its vehicles and of its staff by a third.
When it was set up ten years ago, by directors Mike and Mark Kennedy, it had one small wheelchair accessible minibus. Now the company has 100 plus vehicles, more than 100 staff and operates 96 school contracts for Swindon, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire councils, as well as the day centre transport contracts for Swindon.
At least two-thirds of its vehicles have wheelchair access, more than any other transport company in Wiltshire.
“We love having a business that helps the community,” Mark said. “Our drivers really enjoy helping people, nothing is too much trouble as far as we are concerned. I imagine what life must be like for some of our passengers, how hard it must be and realise that silly things most people worry about just don’t compare.”
Mark had the idea to set up Akcess when he was between jobs and helping his father, Mike, with his taxi business that had already started gaining a reputation as a wheelchair-friendly company.
He took a customer in a wheelchair to a supermarket and offered to stay and help him with his shopping, rather than leave and return later. Mark said: “This customer commented that as a wheelchair user he was rarely treated so well by drivers, this gave me an enormous sense of well-being and really opened my eyes to how much we all take for granted. It made me realise there was potentially a whole area where we could genuinely help people in the community.
“Taxis, even adapted for wheelchairs, aren’t ideal transport for wheelchair users so we decided to buy a minibus, with wheelchair access, and set up the business as a community interest company, to give our customers the best value possible”.
Community interest companies were introduced in 2004, designed for social enterprises which wanted to use their profits and locks assets for the public good.
Akcess ensures it earns enough to pay for its overheads, but doesn’t make a profit, allowing it to keep its fares low.
Mark added: “We’re getting new enquiries all the time, in particular from schools which have children with special needs and need wheelchair-accessible transport when they take children on visits, as it is generally a lot cheaper to use our services than to purchase and maintain a vehicle of their own.
“Our move into Gloucestershire is relatively recent, but we’ve a number of school contracts there already and are hoping to expand this area. We have started to run day excursions for people living in care homes, so they can have a great day out, and are hoping to set up a wheelchair-accessible mini-coach service between people’s homes and Great Western Hospital.”
For more information, visit www.akcess.co.uk or contact Mark on 01793 855550.
Pictured above: Mark Kennedy, director of Akcess.