Super, Man! How to: Recycle 100s of British Phone Booths

The iconic red British telephone box is recognized just about everywhere in the world. It’s been a symbol of British culture and traditions for generations. But today, with the rise of mobile phones and the inflated cost of caring for these public calling booths, BT has decommissioned thousands of red call boxes. But they offered towns a way to keep their telephone boxes even after the telephones inside were removed: for £1 and a great idea, communities were given the opportunity to give these proud red icons new life.

When BT (British Telecom) decided to do away with the red phone box that’s recognized all over the world, they gave councils a chance to keep their booths without the phones. Their Adopt a Kiosk program called for suggestions on what to do with the booths, and BT received thousands of entries. The village of Westbury-sub-Mendip in Somerset came up with the above solution: a micro lending library, where residents can borrow books, CDs and DVDs 24 hours a day. They simply leave one item for each item they take, and the entire village gets to enjoy both the presence of the iconic phone box and the convenience of a well-stocked lending library.

Would you believe this phone box is actually a miniature art gallery? The Gallery on the Green in Settle, North Yorkshire is thought to be the smallest art gallery in the world. It features postcard-size works of art from individuals, groups and schools. The idea behind the project is for residents and tourists to share thoughts and images from their travels, putting them in a public forum where everyone can see.

Residents in Waterperry, Oxfordshire took a different approach. Their phone box is a landmark for their town, especially since the main road is unnamed and most directions to anywhere in Waterperry include “go past the telephone box.” The town adopted their phone box from BT and turned it into a community center of sorts. Its use varies with the season: in the autumn it’s a fruit and vegetable exhange; in the summer it’s been used for poetry readings; in the winter it hosts a jolly Christmas display complete with carolers.

Loppergarth, in Cumbria, uses their adopted phone kiosk as a visitor information center. Visitors have only to step inside to view maps and learn about the area. The town also uses the phone box to display the crown for the town’s drag carnival queen.

Great Shelford, in Cambridgeshire, was the big winner of the competition. Their phone box is a changeable art installation featuring a (somewhat creepy) mannequin. The children of the local primary school make suggestions for the mannequin’s next persona, and its costume is change regularly. Guy Fawkes was the first historical figure to be honored in this one-of-a-kind public art installation.

Even before BT offered councils the chance to save their telephone boxes, they were removing them from locations all across Britain. Some of them ended up in the rubbish tip (garbage dump) and just screamed out to be saved. That’s just what Warwickshire artist Barry Robinson did when he pulled these three phone boxes from certain destruction and created “Telephone Tree,” a 20-foot-tall sculpture that he mounted in a field in his rural village. His neighbors weren’t quite as in love with the idea as Mr. Robinson, though, and called for it to be removed.

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