BT offers up 1,000 iconic red phone boxes for conversions

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As the iconic red phone box approaches its centenary milestone, BT is offering the chance to repurpose around 1,000 of these historic kiosks scattered across the UK.

The brainchild of architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the first rendition of the famous red phone box emerged from a design competition in 1924. However, the surge in mobile phone usage among 98 percent of the adult population has all but eliminated payphone usage nationwide.

Michael Smy, Head of Street at BT, said: “With the vast majority of people now using mobile phones, and significant improvements to mobile coverage across the UK, we’ve continued to see a big drop in the number of calls made from payphones.”

Presently, the UK sustains approximately 20,000 functional payphones—with nearly 3,000 still nestled within the traditional red kiosks. The zenith of phone box installations occurred in the 1990s, peaking at approximately 100,000 units.

BT is now appealing to communities to actively partake in its ‘Adopt a Kiosk’ initiative, poised to breathe new life into underutilised red phone boxes through innovative transformations.

The initiative was inaugurated in 2008 and has already seen over 7,200 phone boxes embraced by communities across the UK for a nominal fee of £1 each. The eligibility to adopt these kiosks is extended to community or parish councils as well as registered charities.

“With the iconic red kiosk about to turn 100, it’s a great opportunity to remind communities that would still like to retain their local kiosk to take it on for just £1 through our Adopt a Kiosk scheme,” added Smy.

“We’ve already seen some great kiosk conversions across the UK that have become valuable community assets.”

Over the years, disused phone boxes have undergone metamorphoses to serve as defibrillator stations, libraries, mini art galleries, public WiFi hotspots, and even local museums.

Martin Fagan, National Secretary of the Community Heartbeat Trust, said: “BT’s kiosk adoption scheme has given us a great opportunity to increase the number of defibrillators across the UK in recent years.

“To install defibrillators in disused phone boxes is ideal, as they’re often in the centre of villages and towns and it means the iconic red phone box can remain a lifeline and focus for the community.”

In adherence to Ofcom’s guidelines, BT continues to scrutinise its remaining payphone inventory and decommission those that are no longer being used. Ofcom’s revised directives last year were grounded in the advancements achieved in mobile coverage and the frequency of calls originating from individual payphones.

One of the adopted kiosks, nestled in the village of Compton near Guildford in Surrey, has emerged as a local emblem. Its unique embellishments – conceived by Chris Sharples, a village resident and parish councillor – celebrate various special occasions.

From Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s nuptials in 2018 to Chinese New Year and the football World Cup, Sharples’ imaginative decorations have garnered both local and international acclaim:

“Phone boxes are typically positioned at the heart of communities,” Sharples asserted, “and I would encourage others to embrace redundant kiosks in their vicinity and transform them into community assets.”

As the nation’s relationship with telecommunications undergoes profound shifts, BT’s Adopt a Kiosk scheme stands as an innovative means of preserving history while invigorating local communities.

(Image Credit: BT)

See also: BT partners with NATS to modernise UK air traffic operations

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