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Villagers in Chartham bid to turn historic red phone box into miniature library through Adopt a Kiosk

They’ve been turned into defibrillator stations, museums and shops, but with only 25 left in the district, time is running out to save our red phone boxes.

The iconic kiosks, originally designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in 1923 for a post office competition, have been in rapid decline over the last decade as mobile use has soared, with 94% of adults now owning one.

In the Canterbury district alone, three boxes already disappeared this year, in the villages of Sturry, Broad Oak and Lower Hardes.

Abegael Tomlin
Abegael Tomlin

But in some places, residents are finding ways to preserve these landmarks, once present in their thousands on streets across the UK and so popular they have been exported across the globe.

In Chartham, book lover Abegael Tomlin is working with the parish council to turn the village green’s run-down kiosk into a miniature library.

Miss Tomlin, 22, who works as a veterinary assistant, says she was searching for a spot to set up a community book swap after spotting one in Chestfield.

“We came across a little library, and I thought, we need one of these in our village,” she explained.

“I knew we had a phone box on the green that doesn’t get used very much, and I thought that’s a nice place for it.”

Having recently won the backing of the parish council, which is now applying to BT for permission to adopt the booth, her plan is to install shelves inside with the help of her father, a carpenter, and fill it with books the community can then borrow.

“I think it will bring everyone together. Lots of people are offering to help maintain it, which is really nice, and people are already saying they’d like to donate books,” Miss Tomlin, of Almond Court, continued.

“It would get people more interested in reading as well. Younger people these days are so into their internet and phones, but when I was a kid, we would read and use colouring books.”

Chartham's red phone box
Chartham's red phone box

Her hope is that by cleaning up the phone box, currently blighted with graffiti, and filling it with reading material including magazines, children’s books, fiction and non-fiction, it will serve as a focal point for the community.

Professor Tim Luckhurst, a historian at the University of Kent, says the special place the kiosks hold in many communities stems from the desire of architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott - who originally suggested they be painted silver - to make functional buildings aesthetically pleasing.

“He made buildings that we needed look architecturally attractive,” said Professor Luckhurst.

“It’s great to preserve these boxes, because they’re part of our culture and heritage.”

He said the red boxes “peaked” in the 1930s as thousands were being built at a time when the telephone was becoming popular but only a minority of people could afford to have one at home.

Professor Tim Luckhurst
Professor Tim Luckhurst

Professor Luckhurst added: “They also gave you shelter. You could go inside to get out of the rain. I’ll confess that when I was a student, if it was windy, I sometimes used to nip in just to light my cigarette.

“We should certainly retain some and I think it’s nice that some of them should remain on public sites, in public domains, rather than being in museums.

“But perhaps the best way to pay tribute would be to come up with another competition to design a building that we really need, maybe an attractive charging station for electric cars or mobile phones.”

BT says that although there are no imminent plans to remove more phone boxes from the area, community groups are welcome to come forward to adopt them.

A spokesman said: “Local community groups can apply through our Adopt a Kiosk scheme to adopt red phone boxes for just £1 and make alternative use of them.”

To get involved with plans to adopt Chartham’s phone box, email abegaellilly@gmail.com.

For more quirky and unusual stories, click here.

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