As red phone box approaches 100th birthday, BT reveals 1,000 kiosks up for grabs
- Since 2008, more than 7,200 phone boxes have been adopted by communities across the UK
- There are around 20,000 remaining working payphones across the UK, 3,000 of which are in traditional red kiosks
- Next year will mark 100 years since the original K2 red kiosk was designed
Ahead of the iconic red phone box turning 100 years of age, BT has revealed that around 1,000 of its kiosks are currently up for grabs across the UK.
Architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott designed the first incarnation of the famous red phone box for a competition in 1924.
In recent years, however, with 98% of the adult population now using a mobile phone, and significant improvements to mobile coverage, there has been a huge decline in the usage of payphones across the UK.
There are now around 20,000 remaining working payphones across the UK, around 3,000 of which are in traditional red kiosks. The number of phone boxes peaked in the 1990s at around 100,000.
BT is now urging communities to continue to take advantage of its kiosk adoption scheme to help transform its underused red phone boxes into other purposes.
Since BT introduced its Adopt a Kiosk programme in 2008, more than 7,200 phone boxes have been taken on by communities across the UK for just £1 each. The kiosks can be adopted by community or parish councils and registered charities.
Redundant phone boxes have been adopted and turned into a range of facilities over the years, from defibrillator units and libraries, to mini art galleries and local museums.
BT is continuing to review its remaining estate of payphones, removing those that are no longer being used, in line with rules set out by Ofcom. Ofcom revised its guidance last year on payphone removals, reflecting improvements made in mobile coverage and the number of calls made from individual payphones each year.
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.
“That’s why we’re continuing to review our payphones estate, making sure we're prioritising the removal of those not being used, in line with Ofcom’s latest guidance.
“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. We’ve already seen some great kiosk conversions across the UK that have become valuable community assets.”
A phone box to mark special occasions near Guildford, Surrey
An adopted kiosk in the village of Compton near Guildford in Surrey has become a local landmark for its quirky decorations to mark special occasions.
After the kiosk was adopted by the community, Chris Sharples, a resident of the village and parish councillor, first started the project to mark Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding back in 2018.
Since then, he has decorated the phone box to mark numerous other occasions, including Chinese New Year, the football World Cup and Burns Night. His decorations have featured in news stories in the UK and internationally and his displays are now eagerly anticipated by the local community and those driving past.
Chris Sharples said: “After the redundant kiosk was adopted and restored by a group of residents, I thought it would make a great place to mark occasions and create a bit of fun. The aim from the start was just to put a smile of people’s faces.
“It’s great that it’s generated interest in the community and helped us support a range of good causes, including a local children’s hospice and the homelessness charity Crisis.
“Phone boxes are generally located in the heart of communities, so I’d urge others to adopt redundant kiosks in their area and turn them into a community asset.”
First red phone box – 1924 design
While the first exterior phone box, produced in concrete and known as the K1, was introduced in small numbers in 1921, the red phone box we know today was designed by architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott for a competition in 1924. This design, the K2, was introduced in 1926, predominately in London. In 1936, Scott refined his design for the famous K6 introduced across the UK to mark George V's Silver Jubilee.
BT’s Adopt a Kiosk scheme
Communities can adopt a kiosk if they are a recognised public body, such as a parish council, community council or town council. Boxes can also be adopted by registered charities or by individuals who have a payphone on their own land. BT will continue to provide electricity (if already in place) to power the light for adopted phone boxes, free of charge. For further information on how to apply to Adopt a Kiosk, go to www.bt.com/adopt where application forms and information can be found.
Ofcom’s updated rules on payphone removals
Last year, Ofcom updated its rules on public payphones, introducing a consistent set of criteria aimed at protecting those phones that are most needed from removal. The criteria includes where payphones are in a location without coverage from all four mobile network providers; they are located in an area with a high frequency of accidents or suicides; 52 or more calls have been made from them over the past 12 months; or there is other evidence that a phone box is reasonably needed at a site – for example, where it is being used to make calls to helplines such as Childline or the Samaritans.
Kiosk adoption examples
The 201 Telephone Box Gallery near St Andrews, Scotland
Fife-based artist Lada Wilson came across a redundant red phone box in the village of Strathkinness near St Andrews and hatched a plan to turn it into a mini art gallery.
With the support of the local Strathkinness Community Trust, the phone box was taken on by the community for £1 through the Adopt a Kiosk scheme and turned into the 201 Telephone Box Gallery.
Since opening in 2018, there have been more than 25 exhibitions in the mini art space which showcases community-based, contemporary art by local, national and international artists.
Lada Wilson, artist-curator and founder of the 201 Telephone Box Gallery, said: “It's been great to take this historic and underused, iconic red kiosk and turn it into a community asset.
“The gallery turned five years old earlier this year and as an artist-curator, I'm really proud of the role it’s played in bringing contemporary art to the village.”
Lada said that the aim of the project was about giving back to the community. She says that the 201 Gallery has helped inspire other kiosk galleries across the UK.
Lada added: “I've been really pleased with the level of support it gets and I've had people coming to me from across the country asking how I did it.
“Thanks to BT's Adopt a Kiosk scheme, we were able to make it happen in the first place, so I'd encourage any other communities interested in doing something similar with the redundant phone boxes in their areas to go for it.”
Community Heartbeat Trust – 700 defibrillator kiosks across the UK
The Community Heartbeat Trust, a charity which provides defibrillators, has worked with BT to adopt kiosks since 2009. They have helped install more than 700 defibrillator stations in adopted phone boxes across the UK.
The kiosk defibrillators installed by the Community Heartbeat Trust have been used on several occasions to save lives across the UK, including in the rural village of Tidenham in Gloucestershire in 2021.
A group walking in the in the Forest of Dean was able to save the life of a group member who’d suffered a heart attack, thanks to finding a nearby phone box defibrillator installed by the Community Heartbeat Trust.
Health research suggests that in rural areas, you are 30 percent less likely to survive an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest.
Martin Fagan, National Secretary of the Community Heartbeat Trust charity, 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.
“The take-up has been fantastic, and we hope more communities will look to adopt the remaining kiosks and choose our help to save more lives across the UK, particularly in rural communities.”
Phone Box Museum in Warley, West Yorkshire
A disused telephone box in West Yorkshire was adopted in 2016 and transformed into a museum.
The kiosk was converted into a museum by the Warley Community Association, in Calderdale, and filled with local historical artefacts.
Since its launch, it has staged a variety of miniature exhibitions and has attracted media attention from around the world, including featuring in a news report on major US channel NBC News.
Eliana Bailey, Warley Community Association chairwoman, said: “We've had a phenomenal response. People thought it was amazing, when they saw inside they could not believe it. It's so inspiring when people come to have a look.”
Focal point for rural village in Eryri (Snowdonia) National Park, Wales
An adopted kiosk in the rural village or Rowen in Eryri (Snowdonia) National Park has become a focal point for the village.
After the kiosk was adopted by the village's Memorial Hall committee in 2013, volunteers set about turning into a defibrillator site, book exchange and information point for local events and for tourists.
Located next to the Ty Gwyn Hotel in the heart of the picturesque village in Conwy county, the kiosk has even been used as a seed swap.
Peter McFadden, trustee of the Rowen Memorial Hall, said: “This red phone box is a much-loved local landmark and a popular meeting place. Some residents have told us that they did their teenage courting there.
“When people stopped using it to make calls, and there was a risk it would disappear, we were determined to keep it and turn it into an important hub for the village. It was an easy process to adopt it from BT and it cost us just £1. Several other villages near here have adopted their phone boxes, having seen ours.
“After a lot of hard work and good ideas from volunteers, it's been put to so many good uses, including a lifesaving one. I'd encourage others to adopt redundant kiosks in their area and turn them into a community asset.”
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