The Big Lemon by the Brighton Pavillion. Photo: Man of Yorkshire

The battle to save the Big Lemon bus gained steam last Monday night in a Brighton bar.

The environmentally-friendly and award-winning bus company held a benefit gig at the Latest Music Bar in Kemptown.
Over £200 was raised as members of various Brighton communities came together for a heady night of singing, dancing and donating.

Founder and driver of the Big Lemon, Tom Druitt, has announced a series of fundraisers in the last few months as Brighton and Hove buses attempt to gain a larger market share.

The city’s largest bus company, Brighton and Hove Buses, has reduced fares and started to run more buses along routes it shares with the Lemon. The Benefit Gig had no cover charge, instead donations were collected in buckets held by Lemon supporters and even some of the night’s performers.

A crowd of a hundred students, environmentalists, Big Lemon enthusiasts and bus staff turned out to help keep Brighton’s alternative public transport service running.

Four acts kept the passionate throng entertained before the stage was cleared for an ‘epic pop, party, electro, hip-hop disco’ until the early hours.

Nine-piece The Red Diamond Dragon Club (featuring University of Sussex MA student Philippa Neville on drums) headlined the event with their electro-folk and were ably supported by Dan Rumsey, Jenni Boyce and Cosmo – who wowed the audience with his modern take on the one-man band.

The Red Diamond Dragon Club said that they “have appreciated the services of the Big Lemon to and from many rehearsals, and it is our pleasure to do our bit to make sure that small, progressive, juicy businesses aren’t left withered and dry by the cold logic of neoliberalism”.

They will be playing another live gig in aid of the Lemon later in the summer. Before heading off for his driving shift, Druitt thanked the crowd, saying: “Only in Brighton would people put on a gig to raise money for a failing bus company.”

In March, The Badger reported that a petition of nearly 2,000 signatures – the biggest petition presented to Brighton and Hove council over the last year – was calling on city leaders to monitor the situation between the rival bus companies.

Concerns over fair competition between the businesses were supported by Mike Weatherley, the Conservative MP for Hove.

Since then, new routes and services offered by Brighton and Hove buses has had a devastating effect. The Lemon has “suffered a big loss in revenue” and is fighting for its survival.

There is hope on the horizon, however, as it was announced on Wednesday 18 May that the bus service has been named as a finalist in the 2011 Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy.

On 16 June five UK winners will be announced and will each receive £10,000 to continue their work.
One of the five will be selected as the winner of the Gold Award and receive an additional £20,000 in recognition of their work in creating “practical solutions to combat climate change.”

To date there has been 120 Ashden award winners across the UK and developing world.
Sarah Butler-Sloss, Founder and Director of the awards said of The Big Lemon: “This environmentally-friendly enterprise is leading the way in sustainable travel by offering convenient, comfortable and affordable public transport.
“It gives those without cars the freedom to get around easily, and encourages those with cars to switch to public transport in order to help address climate change.”

It is currently £150 a year for unlimited travel on Big Lemon services and there are 583 members doing so.
Since launching in 2007 approximately 384,000 passenger journeys have been made.

Kevin McCloud, presenter of Grand Designs, and TV producer John Lloyd will be among those speaking at the ceremony in June.

Previous winners include such disparate individuals and organisations such as Grameen Shakti who helped provide 65,000 homes in Bangladesh with solar-home systems, Leeds City Council, Ringmer Community College in East Sussex and the Kisangani Smith Group, who have developed energy efficient biomass stoves to be made by blacksmiths in Tanzania.

Staff, supporters and many students will be hoping the Big Lemon can join this impressive group and secure an award that would ensure that it remains a fixture on the streets of Brighton and continues to provide an ecological alternative.

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