Look through some photos or old films and TV shows set in London, and you’re sure to spot them in any scenes on the streets of the city. They are rather tall, enough to contain an shelter a grown man, built of cast iron with a domed roof, paneled windows, crown logos, and a payphone inside them. They are the quintessential British phone booths, design mostly unchanged from when it was introduced following a design competition in 1924. The era of mobile and smartphones may have rendered these phone booths an endangered species like the emergency-use police box popularized by BBC’s “Doctor Who” series, but some enterprising means have been found to breathe new life into many unused phone booths.
While most people tend to carry their own phones nowadays British Telecom, which once fielded so many of the famous red phone kiosks, have noticed how the structures still remain a popular subject for photos and selfies. Thus according to CNN, the London-based global telecom company has launched the “adopt a kiosk” program, wherein they make available their stock of removed and discontinued red booths to be sold at a rock-bottom £1 (around $2) a kiosk, to any interested small businesses and enthusiasts under the condition that they be usefully repurposed while retaining the booth look.
Already some inspiring examples of making empty abandoned and phone-less kiosks useful again have surfaced. Taking advantage of British Telecom’s “adopt a kiosk” program, Edward Ottewell and Steve Beeken of Brighton decided to take on two such abandoned phone booths in their seaside town and transformed them into shops selling hats and sunglasses. From there they decided on a bold scheme to adopt some 500 kiosks throughout the UK under the branding of “Red Kiosk Company” and rent them to other entrepreneurs like themselves as a quaint place to do business in.
One of the Red Kiosk Company clients is Umar Khalid of London, who converted such a kiosk in the city’s Hampstead Heath parkland into Kape Barako, a quaint little café out of a booth that is now something of a star on Facebook and Instagram. Other small businesspeople have followed his example and created dining places out of more phone kiosks like Spiers Salads in London’s Bloomsbury Square and Jake’s Coffee Shop in Birmingham. More varied repurposing is demonstrated in Aberdeenshire, Scotland which now has a Wi-Fi internet café phone booth. Lewisham suburb back in London has also inspired a whole community to turn their unused phone booth into a “Micro Library” where the residents stock their own books for other people to read and borrow from.
So even as a new and more tech-contemporary type of phone booth is being introduced to UK streets this year, the classic models don’t seem to be retiring anytime soon, with resourceful people finding new work for them to do outside of taking calls.
Photo courtesy of CNN