Ringing the changes... from phone boxes to life-saving defibrillators
They were once a lifeline for communities — but now red phone boxes in a part of Northern Ireland are getting a new lease of life.
A Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council environmental project will see the iconic boxes sold off for £1 and adopted to be used for everything from life-saving defibrillators to mini-libraries.
The project is part of BT’s “Adopt a Kiosk” scheme, which the council says “provides the opportunity to transform disused phone boxes through an application process with the objective of preserving the heritage of the red telephones boxes”.
Designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and manufactured for over 60 years until production ceased in 1985, the red telephone boxes are considered a cultural icon.
The kiosks were also voted one of Britain’s top 10 design images of the 20th century by London’s Design Museum patrons in 2006.
Fewer than 160 of them still exist in Northern Ireland, with the surge in mobile phones and the internet providing more effective ways of keeping people connected.
The initiative in Lisburn and Castlereagh — a first for the council — is aimed at repurposing at least six traditional red telephone boxes across the district.
“The project will be done in partnership with our local communities to preserve the heritage of these assets and offer environmental enhancements,” the council explained.
A scoping exercise by the council identified six of the kiosks in the area that are eligible for purchase, and further coordination with BT is being carried out to identify more.
A £5,000 investment has been requested to assess each phone box’s condition, carry out consultation to find appropriate community partners to adopt the telephone boxes and to progress statutory permissions.
The council said “we will work with the community to explore how these assets can be given a ‘new life’ in the heart of our towns and villages.”
The proposal is expected to be ratified within the next few weeks.
Mayor Scott Carson has been a pioneer of the project locally, which could also see the boxes becoming mini history museums or art galleries.
“This is something that I brought to the chambers some years ago,” he said. “I am happy there has been progress and that six phone boxes have now been identified and are ready to proceed.
Deputy Mayor Michelle Guy added: “This is a really cool project, and I suggested the scheme should cover other phone boxes around the district, not just the red type.”
The adopt a kiosk scheme has seen over 5,800 red phone boxes across the UK given a new lease of life since its inception 2008.
Any local authority, parish, community, town council or registered charity can apply to the scheme.
Currently there are 1,200 public payphones in Northern Ireland — 157 are the traditional red variety.
Ofcom estimated that 90 of those 1,200 phone boxes will remain operational in areas with poor mobile reception, while an undecided number will be kept in use in areas with other needs, such as lack of access to emergency services.
“We will now review the specific changes and any impact this will have on the payphone service,” a BT spokesperson said.
“Communities wanting to preserve red kiosks are also able to take advantage of our Adopt a Kiosk scheme.
“This allows the public to purchase our iconic red kiosks for just £1 and transform them into a number of different uses, such as life-saving defibrillators, food banks and mini libraries.”
The spokesperson also outlined BT’s plans for the replacement of other payphones.
They added: “We look to replace a proportion of our traditional payphone network in urban areas with our next generation Street Hub units. These are bringing wide ranging benefits to communities, including free ultrafast Wi-Fi and landline calls, access to 999 and charity help lines, advertising for local businesses and air quality monitoring.”