A trip down memory lane – ten key milestones in our first ten years

On this day, ten years ago, we launched our first bus service! To celebrate, we’ve put together ten highlights of the last ten years…


2007: We launched the UK’s first bus service powered solely by recycled cooking oil from local restaurants.

2008: A thirteen year old boy came to the depot with his dad, and said he’d seen the buses and read about us in the paper. He said he would like to buy a share in the business with pocket money he’d saved, and also help out in the depot. He helped Tom wash the buses at the weekends, and also helped out in the office after school. Fast forward to 2017 and he’s our Coach Hire Manager, and, having recently passed his Certificate of Professional Competence in International Passenger Transport, the most highly qualified transport professional in the organisation.

2009: We bought our first coach, a Volvo B10m Plaxton Paramount, and launched the UK’s first waste oil-powered coach hire service. We also won our first award, the Dandelion Award for sustainable business, at a ceremony in London.

2010: We doubled the size of our bus service operation almost overnight, launched a waste cooking oil collection service and elected one of our driving team to the Board of Directors to ensure that our drivers are represented at all levels of decision-making.

2011: We launched our Sunday Walks, and won the EU’s Ethiconomy Award at a ceremony in Italy.

2012: We won our first local authority contract, to run the 52 bus. In the five years since we have built strong relationships with the communities along the route, held 11 public meetings, extended the route into the city centre, introduced multi-operator smart-ticketing (in association with the other local operators, the Department for Transport and the City Council) and increased ridership by 59%.

2013: We launched The Big Orange (a coach that was already orange so we saved the money on yellow paint and branded it The Big Orange!) and the Little Lemon wedding car service, using an ex-London taxi. The Big Orange was ultimately painted yellow as we professionalised and improved our cash-flow, and The Little Lemon is now selling beer in Belgium.

2014: We opened our own on-site maintenance facility for the first time, improving our operational capability and also offering vehicle maintenance as a service to other businesses.

2015: The turning point for our finances as we finally paid off the last of our historical debt, greatly improved our cash position, and ended the year with a healthy surplus that enabled us to pay a dividend for the first time and launch our Staff Fund. This fund is 10% of our annual profit which is managed by a staff committee elected by our drivers and is available for staff welfare, team social activities and personal development.

2016: We set our sights on electric bus technology and raised £250,000 to fund the conversion of two buses from diesel to electric. We also raised £25,000 through a crowdfunding campaign and funding from the M&S Energy Awards for solar panels on the roof of our bus depot. We won nine local and national awards including awards for recycling, innovation, and Best Workplace, Brighton & Hove Business of the Year and UK Environmental Social Enterprise of the Year.

2017: This year we published our national strategy going forward to 2030, recruited Norman Baker as Managing Director in Brighton & Hove, and made history again by launching the UK’s first solar-powered bus, powered from electricity generated on the roof of our depot. We have also been shortlisted for three more awards including the National Transport Awards’ Contribution to Sustainable Transport Award and just a week ago heard that we have been successful in our bid to the Department for Transport for £500,000 towards three brand new zero-emissions electric buses to make Brighton & Hove an even cleaner, greener city and build a working model for community sustainable transport across the country.


It’s been a blast, thank you for being part of our story! Here’s to the next ten years…

Tom, Norman and the team

How are we doing? Passenger survey results show 100% satisfaction with The Big Lemon’s drivers

Our main aim at The Big Lemon is to make sure everyone who has a ‘Big Lemon experience’ has a good one. We endeavour to make a positive impact on our community, to give our team a fulfilling and enjoyable job, and of course to give our passengers the best possible experience on the bus.

Every year we do a straw poll of our 52 passengers to see how we’re doing, and here are the results for 2017:

Our 2016 results:
Big Lemon bus 52 survey results 2016

We’d like to thank our passengers for their very positive feedback and we have taken on board the feedback to improve the experience, especially with regard to the vehicles. We have invested a huge amount this year in the quality of our vehicles and are pleased to say that the new electric bus is very quiet, very smooth and has a fully re-fitted interior with very comfortable seating.

We’d also like to acknowledge the commitment and dedication of our team to provide a friendly personal service to our passengers – incredible result to get 100% top marks for our drivers!

Stop Press!

Come and see us in Brighton’s Churchill Square today where our MD Norman Baker will be showcasing our electric bus and chatting to members of the public about bus services as part of Catch the Bus Week

The future is bright, the future is lemon – Norman Baker writes

I wouldn’t call it gamekeeper turned poacher, but it is certainly a journey from being Buses Minister – setting the rules and determining national budgets – through to Chair of Bus Users UK – representing passenger interests – to my new role as operator, Managing Director of The Big Lemon in Brighton and Hove.

Norman Baker joins The Big Lemon bus company as Managing Director
Norman Baker and Tom Druitt

And yet for me, the philosophy that underpins each role is the same: to deliver a good service for the passenger, and in that way to push up the number of journeys made by bus. That in turn helps reduce carbon emissions and boost local economies, precisely the two key objectives I set for the successful Local Sustainable Transport Fund established back in 2010.

I like the bus industry. It is by and large a happy family, and one which delivers a good product, despite the hurdles that can exist. It is customer focussed in a way many industries aren’t, perhaps because it relies on a huge number of people regularly paying small amounts.

The Big Lemon has these plus points and more besides. It is a great little organisation where everyone feels part of the team and believes in the product. It is therefore no surprise that this enthusiasm is infectious, extending out to the public at large, who like the friendly drivers and the freshness of the brand. We have made travelling by The Big Lemon a fun thing to do. Fun rather than functional.

What is also valued, not least by me, is the ethical and environmental approach that is in the DNA of The Big Lemon. Over a decade now, it has shown how doing the right thing can not only be successful in economic terms, but also generate brand loyalty as well.

All the company’s vehicles run on used cooking oil, collected from local restaurants. This not only reduces carbon emissions but doubtless reduces problems for Southern Water – used cooking oil and waste water pipes are not great companions.

Next month, we take delivery of two electric buses. These will be the first such buses to operate in the city, and perhaps, though I stand to be corrected, anywhere in Sussex. At the same time, solar panels are being installed on the roof of our depot, meaning the recharging of the vehicles should be fully from renewable sources. These buses are truly green.

It has become somewhat unfashionable to put the environment centre stage. The dismissal of measures to tackle environmental challenges by the former chancellor George Osborne as “green crap”, and the arrival of climate change deniers in the White House, has weakened the political imperative for action.

Yet all the scientific analysis shows climate change is only too real and getting more marked by the year. With the transport sector accounting for around a quarter of Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions, it would be irresponsible for the bus industry not to play its part.

Here in Brighton and Hove, the biggest player is of course the Go-Ahead subsidiary Brighton and Hove Buses. We also have services provided by a local independent, Compass.

Both these companies are good operators, and I welcome that. The result of their actions, and ours, has been to buck the national trend, and see passenger numbers rising across the city. We may be in competition at one level but is in our shared interest to provide a reliable product for the bus user. The companies have done that, helped by a consistently supportive approach over the years from the city council, irrespective of political control.

So we now have an effective multi-operator ticketing system, and other shared platforms too. For instance Bus Times, the free timetable guide produced by Brighton and Hove Buses, also includes full information relating to all Big Lemon and Compass registered routes.

And we have a common agenda in tackling the barriers to bus travel, for example the congestion on our roads, or the need for particular bus priority measures.

But in this mix, The Big Lemon has a unique approach, being a social enterprise, suffused with fun, and underpinned by ethical and environmental policies others may find too challenging, but which help rather than hinder our success. It is a model we now want to export to other parts of the country.

I am immensely pleased to be joining an organisation that I believe in and that is going places. The future is bright, the future is lemon.

Norman Baker

Managing Director

 

Passenger Transport article Norman Baker Big Lemon
This article originally appeared in Passenger Transport magazine on 24 March 2017

Norman Baker joins The Big Lemon as Managing Director for Brighton and Hove

Norman Baker, who was the MP for Lewes from 1997 to 2015 and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport from 2010 to 2013, is joining The Big Lemon as Managing Director for the Brighton & Hove area.

Norman Baker joins The Big Lemon bus company as Managing Director
Norman Baker and Tom Druitt

The Big Lemon runs bus routes and coach hire services in and around Brighton & Hove using waste cooking oil from local restaurants, and is launching two electric buses in April which will be powered by solar energy generated on the roof of the bus depot. The social enterprise won ‘Business or the Year 2016‘ at the Brighton & Hove Business Awards.

The appointment is part of The Big Lemon’s ambition to develop a national network of locally-owned social enterprises providing affordable public transport, with zero-emissions vehicles powered by renewable energy.

Since leaving politics in 2015 Norman served as Chair of Bus Users UK, working closely with Chief Executive Claire Walters in raising the profile of Bus Users and helping to steer the organisation towards becoming a more diverse and representative body.

Speaking of his appointment, Norman said

I am delighted to be joining The Big Lemon, which has gone from strength to strength in recent times. I feel particularly at home with its strong environmental approach, showing you can run a successful business in an ethical manner

Norman Baker

Tom Druitt, founder and chief executive of The Big Lemon, welcomed Norman’s appointment:

Norman has dedicated his life to his community, serving the people of the Lewes area for many years as their MP, and more recently bus users across the country as Transport Minister and latterly as Chair of Bus Users UK. We’d be hard-pressed to find a stronger champion for better and more sustainable bus services to lead our organisation in Brighton & Hove, and we’re very much looking forward to working together

Tom Druitt

What does community-based public transport look like in the UK in 2030?

The Big Lemon has put in a bid for funding to Innovate UK to explore the question of what community-based public transport looks like in the UK in 2030.

The aim of the funding is to “stimulate high-quality, human-centred design activities at the earliest stages of the innovation journey. These should identify opportunities and generate ideas for new products, services or business models that align with customer demand”.

Sustainable community public transport in 2030
Is this the future for sustainable community public transport in 2030?

We have a strong vision at The Big Lemon, that

by 2030 every community in the UK has access to affordable, sustainable transport, using zero-emissions vehicles powered by renewable energy and owned by the local community

We know that this has to become a reality, given the irrepressible desire of people to move around and the imperatives of climate science.  To date we’ve met this challenge by developing a network of innovative bus services, owned by the community and powered by renewable energy.

But, given the rapid development of autonomous, low-carbon vehicles, new, digitally-driven on-demand transport options, not to mention a challenging outlook for publicly-funded services, we don’t believe that the traditional scheduled bus service can realise our vision any more than the inefficient, congestion-causing, financially-draining model of private car ownership can.

Through user-centred design, we want to explore, co-create and test new service models with the travelling public, that we can roll-out nationwide to meet our vision – and the needs of the communities we serve. Working with User Experience experts We Are AFK, we are excited about moving beyond a bus company to an innovation leader in sustainable transport.

What do you think is the future?  Share your comments below

Our vision for sustainable transport in the UK in 2030

This year The Big Lemon will be 10 years old.  This is a good time to reflect on our journey, and look at where we want to go and what we want to achieve in the next 10-13 years.

It’s been one hell of a ride.  From humble beginnings with three old buses and a van full of biodiesel in a car park to Brighton & Hove’s Business of the Year 2016, it has been a rollercoaster of epic proportions.

Where it all began…
The Big Lemon was the first bus company in the UK to run its whole fleet on 100% recycled waste cooking oil, and the first bus company in the UK with a Facebook group (that was before they even had ‘Pages‘!)  An early adopter of Twitter, we were laughed at in 2009 for using it as a means to communicate service updates to our passengers.  Now everyone’s doing it.

The Big Lemon Team - Brighton
Team Lemon
In 2017 we have seven coaches, two little buses and a minibus working four daily bus services in Brighton & Hove as well as private coach hire, music festival coaches and Sunday Walks.  Last year we drove almost as far as the moon, taking over a quarter of a million people to where they wanted to go and saving over 220 tonnes of CO2 from going into the atmosphere in the process. We also got stuck into all sorts of local community initiatives such as Brighton Festival, a scheme to help long-term unemployed people get training and work experience, and a lunch club for elderly residents in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean.

Last year we also did a lot of work on the Bigger Picture, asking questions like “what’s it all for?”,”what’s the point in us?” and “where are we going with it?”.

The Dream Team deep in thought
Looking back over the last few months…

The Big Plan for the future
Following a Solar Bus Retreat in Dream Valley, five Dream Team meetings in Brighton, a month of relationship-building in Bristol, two full Team Lemon meetings, umpteen cups of tea and a few sneaky craft beers we agreed on our purpose:

“to enable everyone to get around their community in an affordable, environmentally-sustainable way”

and our 2030 Vision:

“By 2030 every community in the UK has access to affordable, sustainable transport, using zero-emissions vehicles powered by renewable energy and owned by the local community”

 

Anything’s possible
The Solar Bus Retreat team selfie

because Life’s more Fun on The Big Lemon!
So how do we go about that?

the-big-lemon-is-hiring-a-new-md

We have decided that the best way to achieve our goal is to hire a Managing Director to take The Big Lemon in Brighton & Hove to the next stage of its development; and set up a wider network to realise the 2030 Vision. This network will be led by our CEO Tom Druitt and would have four functions:

  1. to develop creative and innovative solutions to address the transport needs of the future in a sustainable way
  2. to facilitate the creation of new social enterprises in other communities under The Big Lemon’s umbrella, with shared values and a common purpose but operationally independent and locally-owned
  3. To provide training and coaching to support and develop the new teams in the network
  4. To provide business support in the form of licensing, marketing, administration, financial and legal support to give all the social enterprises in The Big Lemon family the best chance of success.

Would you like to be part of our future – and help us realise our vision?

Come to our AGM on Sunday 5th March at 3pm at Lemon HQ.  The whole community is welcome, but only shareholders are able to vote.  If you’d like to come please fill in the form below so we know how many people to expect:

Do you know anyone who would relish a new challenge leading one of Brighton’s most exciting businesses, and one of the UK’s most innovative social enterprises?  Please tell them about our new vacancy for a Managing Director in Brighton.

 

Happy New Year from all of us at The Big Lemon!

We’d like to wish all our passengers, customers and friends a very happy New Year!  The last year has been our best so far and we’d like to share a few highlights.

Here’s the 60 second whistle-stop tour:


January: We set our aims for the year:

  1. To benchmark our performance in each area and set up a system for measuring our performance
  2. To use the system to improve our performance in each area over the year
  3. To become the best workplace in Brighton & Hove
  4. To go for growth.
  5. To start operating services with electric buses.

February: We set out our electric bus plans and raised £250,000 for investment in electric buses. We now have two in a factory in Sheffield having their finishing touches done; we will take delivery of these in the New Year.  In February we also went on a team fun day out, digger-racing in Kent.

March: In March we had a big Team day, where we shared our hopes and dreams, both as individuals and for The Big Lemon. The same evening we had our AGM, where it was agreed to invest 80% of our surplus from 2015 in our electric bus plans and in the company’s growth, and split the remaining 20% between a staff fund for our team, and our very first dividend payment for our shareholders.

April: We held two public meetings, in Ovingdean and Woodingdean, to meet our passengers and the wider community to find out how our Service 52 was going and what residents needed most in the future. We also did surveys on all three of our services, and found high satisfaction levels on all services, with highest marks (93% in one survey!) going to our drivers for their friendly, personal service.  Our main area for improvement was found to be the lack of technology giving passengers real-time service information, something we are addressing with our new electric buses.  In April we also won a “Best Recycler” Award from Paper Round for our 82% recycling rate, up from 64% the year before.

May: The May bank holiday weekend saw us kick off our festival season, with Beltane Fire Festival just outside Lewes. We were also honoured to be the subject of Patcham Junior School’s float in Brighton & Hove’s Children’s Parade.

June:  In June we started two new bus services for a large employer in Hove, providing their staff with a shuttle bus between Hove Station and the office, and also a daily coach shuttle between their offices in Hove and Surrey.  We also won two awards at the inaugural Brighton & Hove Independent Business Awards, for Innovation and Green Business.

The children of Patcham Junior School made a Big Lemon bus for the Brighton & Hove Children’s Parade

July: We took over the lease on our depot on 1 July from our landlord (who retired), giving us much more freedom to do things like… put solar panels on the roof (more on this later!)  But before we could anything with the depot we had to get rid of two scrapped cars and two shipping containers’ worth of rubbish!

August: We bought another coach in August, taking our coach fleet from three to seven in less than six months. These coaches worked pretty much non-stop all summer, on weddings, parties, school trips, day trips, music festival coaches and transport for language school students.

September: We won a hat-trick at the Brighton & Hove Business Awards this year, winning the Green Business Award, Best Place to Work, and Business of the Year. Probably the proudest moment in our story so far.

At the Brighton & Hove Business Awards The Big Lemon won awards for Green Business, Best Workplace and Business of the Year!

October: Our Solar Bus campaign with Brighton Energy Coop  won the regional contest for the M&S Energy Awards, with 1473 votes and 171 crowd-fund backers raising a total of £13,325. Together with £12,500 from M&S Energy this campaign raised £25,825 to put 128 solar panels on the roof of our depot to power our new electric buses. We’re massively grateful to everyone who helped, and especially to Sussex Backup, Infinity Foods and Buddies Cafe for their very generous financial support. Incredibly, we also won the Transport category at the 2016 P.E.A. Awards.

November: This year undoubtedly has been the best yet for so many reasons, but what put the cherry on top was recognition at the UK Social Enterprise Awards in London, where we were named Environmental Social Enterprise of the Year.

December: What a year – thank you for being part of it! To finish, here are some stats:

  • over 270,000 passengers carried on five bus services
  • 624 private coach hires, not including regular hires, festival coaches or our subsidised trips for community organisations; an average of 52/month or 1.7 per day
  • 1133 people taken to 12 different music festivals
  • 84 local walkers taken on 7 Sunday Walks
  • 97,700 litres of biodiesel used, diverting 112 tonnes of cooking fat from the waste stream
  • 218,416 miles driven by a total of 16 different buses and coaches
  • 220 tonnes COsaved from the atmosphere (from using biodiesel instead of diesel)
Seasons Greetings and Happy New Year to all our passengers and friends – Cheers!