What’s happening to old red phone boxes?

Woman outside an old red telephone box

All around the UK, there are hints of a former, pre-smartphone era: thousands of red BT phone boxes. These days, most of them only make a couple of calls a week, and spend the rest of their time standing there looking forlorn.

But here's the good news: you can buy your local box and give it a new lease of life, thanks to BT's adopt a kiosk scheme.

Phone boxes around the country have been turned into Wi-Fi hotspots, charging stations, and emergency phones - as well as a few more interesting things too. Such as…

Smartphone repair stations

The main reason why red phone boxes have fallen into disuse is because we've all got mobile phones now… but your mobile is pretty useless if it's broken. That's why phone repair company Lovefone converted a couple of phone boxes in Greenwich into mini smartphone repair stations. Just drop your smartphone off at a booth, and the engineer on duty will fix it up for you.

Or if your mobile's in perfect working order, you can charge it up at these things too.

Libraries

Red phone box library

Image: Matt Brown/Flickr

Don't read too much into it, but a few towns across the country had the novel idea of turning their old phone boxes into miniature libraries and book exchanges. The back wall of the box is filled up with tomes that residents are welcome to pop by and borrow.

John Crowe, who runs the mini library for Wall, Staffordshire, said: "The lending is based on trust and fortunately there have been no problems." Wall is apparently an idyllic utopia of cosy village life.

A salad bar

Here's a fresh idea. If you find yourself near Bloomsbury Square in London, why not get your lunch from Spier's Salads? Salad bar owner Ben Spier opened up a mobile branch of his business in an old phone box to serve up salads on the go during the summer months. He's even installed a fridge for drinks so you can grab a Fanta too.

Defibrillators

Surprisingly, this is one of the most common uses for old phone boxes: transforming them into life-saving hubs complete with defibrillator equipment. The Community Heartbeat Trust runs a scheme for installing them - it's something you'll mostly find in villages and rural areas where an ambulance probably wouldn't reach in time.

Loweswater in Cambridge have a lovely recounting of their own phone box's conversion into a defib-slash-emergency-phone combo on the village's website, if you want to see how that works. (Psst… It's got pictures of cute dogs on it too.)

Art galleries

A bunch of kiosks turned from phone box to paint box in Cheltenham, when the council converted a few of them into tiny art galleries to showcase local artists' work. They rotate every few months, so plenty of artists get to have a go at turning a box into an installation.

Unfortunately, Cheltenham isn't an idyllic rural paradise like Wall and Loweswater - one of the boxes was attacked by some vandals last year.

Coffee stalls

Image: textlad/Flickr

Ah, the one thing more important than staying in touch with your loved ones: a hot cup of joe. Old phone boxes in Brighton and Edinburgh have been converted into makeshift coffee kiosks by Red Box Coffee - two phone boxes next to each other function as a fridge and a place to put an espresso machine. And it's an independent local business that pays its taxes, which is always nice in a coffee shop.

A pub

Trust us to turn a quintessential British symbol into something even more quintessentially British: the pub. Villagers in Shepreth, Cambridgeshire, made a local phone box into a little pub - aptly named The Dog and Bone.

"As it was so small we sold beer in thimble fulls instead of pints… it was a great success," organiser Louise Barrell said.

Sadly, it was only a temporary watering hole for a local fete a few years ago, and you can no longer get a pint there.

The world's smallest museum (probably)

Red phone box museum

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The quaint Yorkshire town of Warley turned one of their red phone boxes into a very small museum - cramming it full of local history artefacts like photos, glass etchings, jewellery, and little antique fashion pieces. Its organisers even say they'll change the pieces inside it every three months to keep it interesting.

If you're nearby, give the Warley Museum a visit outside the Maypole Inn - though remember that only one person can enjoy it at a time.

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