Two decades ago, Joseba Barrenengoa was working as a public works engineer for a major construction firm. However, on a trip through the province of León, he saw a For Sale sign at a petrol station.
Without thinking too much about it, he decided to buy it. People with disabilities worked at the gas station and he decided to keep them on.
Although it took him a decade to open his second service station, when he did, he repeated this formula that allows integration into the workforce, through Spain's 'special employment centres'.
In August 2020, Barrenengoa added another station to his company; in Cajiz, a small village just to the west of Vélez-Málaga.
The Cajiz station is the sixteenth in a network that extends through Andalucía, Catalonia, Alicante, León, Coruña, Gijón, Santander and Barrenengoa's home, the Basque Country.
Azahara Infante, Fran López, Loli Martínez, David Rubio, Sandra Guirado, Ricardo Castellano, Rodrigo Pérez and Yolanda Puñal work at the Easygas petrol station in Cajiz.
All of them have a physical disability. The other two members of staff are Águeda Márquez, who is a coordinator, and Sergio Garrido, another team member.
Each one of the eight workers has their own story to tell of hurdles that life has thrown at them. Azahara Infante, 32, from Rincón de la Victoria, had a kidney transplant in October 2019 and she also suffers from asthma and heart problems. "For me it is a great opportunity to work in something I like, since I studied electromechanics and I spent a few years working for a car hire company at the airport," she explained.
Fran López suffered a serious accident 15 years ago, while working as a delivery person and furniture assembler for a company in Vélez-Málaga. The accident led to a partial amputation of one leg, below the knee. He was just 24 years old at the time.
Far from giving up, Fran turned to sports, especially wheelchair basketball, which he has been playing for more than a decade, with teams including Amivel, Juventud de Badalona and Almería.
"I was combining the coordination of Amivel car parks in Vélez with the team, but I left shortly before the pandemic, so this has been a great opportunity," he explained.
Loli Martínez, a 50-year-old resident of El Palo, has been battling anorexia nervosa for three decades. She was unemployed before getting the job at Easygas, although she had previously worked in a nursery, as a sales clerk and cleaner. "It has been my salvation because with Covid-19 I was unemployed," she said.
Barrenengoa is "very proud" of his staff, of whom 85 per cent of the 160 employees are disabled. "We are a network of petrol stations in which we provide direct service, the customer does not have to fill up their cars and our prices are among the cheapest on the market. But we are not a 'low-cost' model and our product is of the highest quality," boasts the Basque businessman, who is preparing two new openings, in Galicia and another two in Andalucía.
"All the customers we have in Spain are very satisfied, because they recognise that good customer service is fundamental and these people are phenomenal, they do a great job," said Barrenengoa, who admitted that with the pandemic, business fell by 50 per cent, "But we have recovered completely and we are even going up," he added.
Regarding the future of private cars, he considers that it will not be possible to implement the electric or hydrogen cell car "as fast as the politicians say", so he predicts that the technologies "will be shared equally in the coming decades".