Sometimes people ask us what it is that makes The Big Lemon different. Many already know that we run our buses on on recycled waste cooking oil – even if they know nothing else. Some people know that we’re a social enterprise, but many are not sure exactly what that means. But there’s something else too – something even more important.
So what is it?
It’s all about the driver.
We believe that by investing in our staff and giving them an enjoyable and rewarding place to work with an emphasis on fun they will pass on the lemon love to our passengers by providing a friendly and person-centred service.
The customer service is fantastic which is one of the reasons why I am sure that the yellow buses are so popular. The drivers are all friendly; there is always a “Good Morning”, “Good Afternoon” when getting on the bus and a cheery “Goodbye” at the end of the journey. If the drivers see you running for the bus, they wait, and in the morning during term time when there are so many students using the buses there is always a really nice atmosphere of happy chatter.
Have you had a ride on one of our buses? What was it like?
The Big Lemon has received confirmation of eligibility for Social Investment Tax Relief (SITR) from HMRC, offering investors in the company income tax relief and other benefits. This represents a huge boost to The Big Lemon’s ability to raise money for investment in electric buses, and offers investors an incredible 30% return on their investment in the first year.
Anna Fisher, The Big Lemon’s Finance & Sustainability Manager said
The Big Lemon is on a mission to bring zero-emissions, zero carbon buses to Brighton & Hove. Earlier this year we raised £250,000 for investment in electric buses and we’ve spent the last few months working with suppliers to optimise the performance and battery life of the new buses.
We have also recently completed a deal with our landlord to take over the lease on our depot which will enable us to generate renewable energy on-site that we can then use to charge the buses. Watch this space!
SITR offers investors in social enterprises such as The Big Lemon tax incentives on shares and bonds held for a minimum of three years. Investors can benefit from Income Tax relief, Capital Gains Tax exemption, Loss relief and Capital Gains Tax deferral relief. Further information on SITR is available on the Government website.
It is time for us to choose a new driver. Do we want a driver to drive back to the depot, close the gates and lock up? Or do we want a driver to drive out into the world, to serve our communities near and far, and spread happiness and kindness wherever they go?
I joined The Big Lemon on the first of their regular Sunday walks for 2016. A Big Lemon bus leaves Old Steine at 10:30 on the first Sunday of each month and takes passengers to the start of the walk. The same bus meets us again at the end of the walk which is always a pub with an opportunity for lunch.
The April walk began at Bramber Castle near Steyning with a stroll around the castle remains. We then walked through the pretty village of Upper Beeding to the South Downs Way. It was a fairly steep walk up-hill from there, but the views from the top were outstanding. From there, we remained on an undulating ridge for most of the way to Devil’s Dyke, which took about two hours.
Sheep with their new born lambs were plentiful as well as cows and a field with what looked like young bulls – it was difficult to tell from a distance and we weren’t going any closer!
The walk finished at the Devil’s Dyke pub where some of our group ordered lunch and we all sat outside enjoying the sunshine and views.
The Devil’s Dyke pub was very busy but the food was good and better than some expected. Pub food isn’t included and some of the group had bought their own sandwiches or snacks. It was suggested that this walk should go in the opposite direction as the smaller pubs in Upper Beeding looked more interesting and the last part would be down hill.
About twenty people had joined the walk and they were a very friendly crowd. I felt welcome as soon as I arrived at the Old Steine where Mick and his dog Becky (in the photo) were standing outside the bus.
Everyone seemed to talk to everyone else during the course of the walk; it was interesting to meet people from a variety of backgrounds and ages. They included students, a yoga teacher as well as older couples.
The walk was led by Anna from The Big Lemon who had a map and made sure we all kept together. As I boarded the bus to return to Brighton I discovered that driver Neil used to drive buses in Canterbury where I grew up, so we had a good chat about that. We arrived back in Brighton at 3.30pm, but this time varies according to the length and location of the walk.
It was a really splendid day out, well organised and with a very welcoming and friendly crowd, many of whom tried to made it a regular event. The next walk on Sunday 1 May is to the Ashdown Forest. Thoroughly recommended! For more information go to www.thebiglemon.com/walks
Last week we met with residents on the route of our 52 service for a general catch-up and an opportunity to share latest news and get passenger feedback. We held two meetings: one in Woodingdean and one in Ovingdean, and alongside the meetings we’ve also been running a survey.
The main news shared at the meeting was that the existing contract for Route 52 (which relies on Brighton & Hove City Council for the majority of its funding) was due to expire this September, but the contract has been renewed for another year. We’re very happy that it is continuing and residents also expressed great relief. The million dollar question of course is what happens next year but we will continue to support residents to keep their bus service as we understand how much of a lifeline it is for them.
It was great to hear feedback from residents, and on the whole this was very positive. Residents said they liked the new ticket machines and the fact they can now use key cards and mobile tickets on the service. They also liked the new bus on the route, even though currently it’s not yellow (it’s a temporary trial bus so we can’t paint it!) The new bus was reported to be very comfortable, and has also improved reliability. Residents were unanimous in their praise for the drivers, which was lovely to hear.
In terms of improvements, the main request was for an improved information system to give real-time running information, so we are taking steps to get the ball rolling on that and hope to include it when we move to the new electric buses.
Feedback from our survey was very similar to feedback from residents at our meetings; the main findings are below:
Then towards the end we asked people to rate the service:
By no means a scientific sample (14 respondents in total) but it did give us a flavour of how we’re doing, and it was nice to see most respondents ‘very’ or ‘mostly’ satisfied! There were no scores of ‘never’, and at most only one ‘rarely’ in each category; and the three ‘rarelys’ were from the same person, who also reported that they used the bus ‘only occasionally’ and declined to answer the question on how we can improve the service… So we’re not sure what to do with that one!
But what do YOU think?! Put your comments in the box below🙂
Today is World Happiness Day. By complete coincidence, it’s also the day we had our Staff Day, and our AGM. Which is all very apt, as happiness runs through everything we do, from our vision to our ideals, our goals, our hopes and dreams for our staff team, the experience we give our passengers on our buses, and our community at large.
During the course of the day with the team we explored a number of questions such as “Your aims for The Big Lemon”, “What you most enjoy about your job”, “One thing you would change” and “One thing you want to do before you die”. Without wanting to get too morbid, the aim of the day was to take a step back from the coalface (or the renewable energy frontline!) and consider our priorities, hopes and dreams, for The Big Lemon but also for ourselves and our colleagues.
Following all this hard work it was time for a well-earned cup of tea🙂
Then it was off to the pub for team Sunday lunch before heading over to Brighton’s wonderful new community arts and cultural centre, the Synergy Centre, for our AGM. Here we joined The Big Lemon’s shareholders and members of the community of over 150 bondholders to look at our progress of the last year, and our plans for this year.
After a presentation and questions over last year’s progress and our plans for this year we got down to the formal business of the AGM, which was to decide how to allocate the company’s surpluses, and vote fresh talent onto our Board of Directors.
We have been blessed with two incredibly talented people with very relevant skills, Mitali Mookerjee and Martin Ashby, who were both elected to the Board and will make a huge difference. We were also lucky enough to have an offer of help from a local graphic designer, Mark Griffin, who will help us make our business look the business.
Finally, we discussed how we allocate our surpluses. There was a proposal from the Board that 80% of our profits will be re-invested, 10% will be paid in a dividend to our shareholders – the first dividend we’ve ever paid – and 10% to our staff as a thank you for all the hard work. Happily, everyone agreed unanimously to the proposal and a motion to have equal staff and shareholder ‘pots’ moving forward was also unanimously supported.
We won’t be millionaires next year but we have lots of exciting plans, our shareholders are benefitting from a dividend for the first time, and our staff have a pot of gold to do something amazing with. Happy with that🙂
In the last few days we have exceeded our new target, with a grand total of £250,ooo raised for new zero-emission electric vehicles for Brighton & Hove.
We’re very excited at the prospect of running electric buses in Brighton & Hove, and would like to thank everyone who’s invested in us, as well as all those who’ve offered support in other ways. The response to our campaign has been incredible, and the money raised will enable us to further reduce emissions in the city and improve air quality. It will also give us probably the greenest fleet of buses in the country, which we hope will open up further opportunity to offer sustainable bus services in Brighton & Hove and beyond.
Tom Druitt, MD, The Big Lemon
The £250,000 will be spent on two electric buses and the charging stations to keep them topped up. The buses will be able to run the whole day with the help of short bursts of extra electricity provided by a ‘fast-charger’ at the end of the route.
It’s amazing! I’m so happy, its such good news
Jo, passenger on the 52 service
The emissions of the buses will be nil, saving 11 tonnes of CO2, 1.4 tonnes of NO2 and 81 kg of particulates per bus each year. The buses will run on electricity from renewable sources.
Brighton Area Buswatch congratulates The Big Lemon on this achievement. Raising £250,000 in just a few weeks is phenomenal. We look forward to seeing quiet zero emission yellow electric buses on our streets soon
Andrew Boag, Chair, Brighton & Hove Buswatch
The community bond issue is now finished, but if you missed that boat there is still an opportunity to invest. We have launched a share offer for people interested in a longer term investment that we are registering under the Enterprise Investment Scheme. For further details click here