Priya Datta - Social Enterprise UK LSE

By Priya Datta 

In 2006, Tom Druitt, the current CEO and Founder of The Big Lemon, organised a public meeting in Brighton and Hove to deliberate plans for a community bus service. This seemingly arbitrary talk in the local pub is what led to the success that is The Big Lemon CIC, run, funded, and delivered by the community, for the community. Stemming from a passion to serve along with a strong vision of a “future where our society is no longer reliant on the car”, Tom, along with help from his friend, Graeme Simpson, created a community bus service that pioneered truly sustainable bus services and showed what was possible in Brighton & Hove

The community spotlighted key issues that gave rise to the need for this service. Recognition of the growing concern for climate change and wider sustainability is what fuelled initial discussions, and from then on, was made a focal point for the company.

With the transport sector reaching almost 40% of total energy consumption in 2018, it becomes imperative that transport is effectively transformed to be sustainable and beneficial to the community. Up against Brighton & Hove Buses, The Big Lemon had to prove its worth to the community through their sustainability initiative. Using leftover oil from local takeaways and restaurants from 2007-2017, and solar power more recently, they demonstrated how easy it is to incorporate biodiesel and more sustainable practices into transportation. The instilled community values and message of sustainability is what made The Big Lemon so popular with locals, allowing it to flourish into the widely used service that it is today.

Values, Vision, and Philosophy

The forward-looking values that are ingrained in every part of service delivery is a core part of the company that never seems to fade. The theme of sustainability is clear; they champion a version of the future where cars are made redundant and public transport is used universally.

There is already quantifiable evidence on the environmental benefits of The Big Lemon. One million tonnes of CO2 emissions have already been saved with the use of waste cooking oil. The benefits of biodiesel compared to petrol or diesel is astounding. Combustion of biodiesel only releases any CO2 that the plant had absorbed in its last few years of life, resulting in no new emissions being expended through the busses running on biodiesel.

In 2017, they launched their innovative solar-powered buses, the first being called “Om Shanti”. Their pioneering work on electric buses only means that the company is getting greener, paving the way for more companies to follow suit, with a regional competitor, also introducing electric buses in 2020. The 21kW solar panels placed on the roof are an easy way of allowing the bus to charge without the use of toxic hydrogen batteries. After the success of their first bus, the entire bus fleet has nearly been converted to solar-powered electric, a truly ground-breaking step in the sector.

Electric bus on Brighton seafront Big Lemon Social Enterprise UK Stories
Tom Druitt with Bill Murray, co-founder of the London to Brighton Vehicle Rally

Who Runs The Big Lemon?

The Big Lemon works with the community to raise money through selling shares and bonds in the company. Again, this comes from a place of wanting local people to benefit from returns on investments rather than banks and other corporate investors. These investments funded the transformation of their fleet into electric buses.

Community buy-in happens in more ways that just this, however. Regular public meetings within local churches, the university, pubs, and on the buses ensures that the community is being listened to and involved in during decision making processes. After all, they are essentially the investors too. This improves the service to the benefit of the people and generates innovative ideas that wouldn’t have otherwise been considered.

The Big Lemon started off as an independent bus service that ran through Brighton and Hove, with the need to buy cheap tickets in order to board. However, now the company runs under contract to the Greater Brighton Metropolitan College, Legal & General and to the City Council, making it free at the point of use under for staff and students

Expansion

The Big Lemon are expanding their positive social impact through launching Brighton Horizon Coaches which enables students to travel to college from across Sussex , as well as rail replacement services, private hire, and day trips, all of which not only encourage people to use more sustainable transport and also allowing more socially isolated people to take day trips in a sustainable way. Not only does it benefit the environment, but also the health and wellbeing of the community.

Earlier this month the Big Lemon put on the first ever London to Brighton Electric Vehicle Rally to celebrate the rapid development of zero emission electric vehicles and renewable energy technology and to mark the transition this year of The Big Lemon’s fleet to electric. The Big Lemon and its values are ingrained in the culture and community of Brighton and Hove. Characterised by their trademark yellow buses, The Big Lemon is impossible to miss, and respect for them and the mission continues to grow. Recognition of the immense positive social impact that it has is growing, and with hopes to expand into other parts of England, Tom Druitt is paving the way for sustainable community transport that has the power to be transformative for people across not only Brighton and Hove, but Britain too

thebiglemon.com

Priya Datta is a student at LSE and did a summer internship at SEUK focusing on sustainable transport