Powered by the sun

Features Posted 10/04/17
Undeterred by a major fire at its first HQ, Green Gate barriers rise to bigger challenges in bright new surroundings.

A company launched from a spare bedroom has grown in 10 years to a seven-figure turnover with happy customers across the UK, thanks to the power of the sun.

Green Gate Access Systems harnesses solar power to produce security barriers for the construction industry, schools and car parks. Many of their projects have proved to be ground-breaking, including a children’s nursery in Whitstable which became the first school in the UK to have a solar-powered entry gate, and the first solar-powered barriers installed at a UK hospital at Warwick.

But it is the construction industry which has really embraced the use of sun-powered barriers provided by Green Gate’s new brand “SOSEC”, set up last summer. These gates now restrict entry to building and highway sites from Edinburgh to Cornwall and provide peace of mind for managers, at a fraction of the cost of employing a security guard.

Green Gate’s MD Neil Sampson explained: “It can cost up to £36,000 to use a security banksman to keep the public off dangerous construction sites, by the time you’ve factored everything in. Kier are our biggest customers, with more than 200 active sites across the country and they estimate we save them £6 million a year.

The stand-alone gates and barriers work using a solar-powered battery which is linked via the internet to operate entry systems to the customer’s specifications. Neil points out that they are completely reliable, even in winter when the sun is in short supply: “Calculations can be made, even on the shortest day, to ensure the barriers keep working. It’s all a matter of mathematics and upgrading the panels accordingly.”

Neil began his working life as a biochemist, later branching into selling video conferencing systems. He then heard about solar gates and decided to take up the challenge of using them in a business operation. “I wanted to work for myself and I realised there might be a niche in fitting security gates,” he said. “I found a gate supplier, watched what they did, then went out to sell the idea.”

One of the first outings for his company was a stand at the Kent County Show in 2006, when Neil was supported by his wife Hannah and a friend called Aidon Bransfield, who joined Green Gate about eight months later. Sales took off and the company has grown 20% year on year, to become the team of 13 with six vehicles on the road that it is today.

All was running smoothly when catastrophe struck in June 2016. Fire broke out in a neighbouring unit on the industrial site in Bircholt Road, Maidstone, where Green Gate had its offices, causing damage estimated at hundreds of thousands of pounds and leading Neil to question the future of his company.

“I had to make a decision whether we waited until we could move back into the unit, or whether we took the plunge and found another site. People had worked so hard getting us where we were and I wanted to let everyone know we were OK.

“I was out driving one day when I noticed a warehouse on a farm in Boughton Monchelsea was available and on a whim I went to see it. We had been working in 1,800 sq ft of space, with six parking spaces, and here was 11,000 sq ft and a third of an acre. We didn’t need that much space – but my view was we might in the future. So I asked my wife and managers ‘can we afford it?’ The answer was we had to.”

A speedy move over one weekend in February this year was achieved, thanks to enormously hard work by Neil’s team and by the Monday they were installed and ready to get back to work.

“It’s been a slog, but so worth it,” says Neil with a smile. “We’ve got room to move and room to grow. I’ve even installed a gym and showers for the team, to make working conditions more pleasant.”

Downstairs in the new HQ the installers check and construct gates, starting life as a number of components from wide-flung sources – batteries from Malaysia, solar panels from Switzerland, barriers from Italy and metal from Hampshire which is powder-coated in Medway. The company sold 50 units in 2016 and is set to complete 70 this year. Kier alone has bought 28, which it moves around its many sites across the country.

Neil is delighted at how Green Gate and SOSEC have risen from the ashes of last year’s fire and looks towards a bright future, hoping to export to North America and Australia.

“I know we have a great product and I’m confident we can achieve £3.9 million turnover by 2019,” he said.

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