“Somewhere Out There”

No prizes for guessing  the song in my head  this evening.  Somewhere out there, someone thinks like me.  In July last year, in a post titled ‘Seeing Red’, I articulated – somewhat hesitantly – that the iconic British red telephone booths might be modified to become mobile charging stations.  They could then serve a useful purpose and have good reason to remain on English streets.

This idea had been in my head for some time and I may have even voiced it once or twice, possibly to the accompaniment of  the metaphoric rolling of eyes.  So it was something of a lovely surprise to chance upon the following letter in the December 2012 issue of National Geographic Magazine:

National Geographic, December 2012

National Geographic, December 2012

So perhaps it’s not such a far-fetched idea after all and perhaps mine is not (always) a ditzy voice calling in the wilderness.  On a distant continent, in a different hemisphere, someone thinks just like me.  It’s somehow rather reassuring.

Telephone Box in Maida Vale.

Telephone Box in Maida Vale.

My thoughts returning to telephone boxes, I have looked up their history and status on Google and established that although they’re regarded as an ‘endangered species’ these days, at least 2000 of them have been declared  listed buildings and will remain in London as always.  There is something comforting about their constancy and in the knowledge that they will be around for years to come.

5 thoughts on ““Somewhere Out There”

  1. Frankly its a great idea! Society today seeks for the new crisp and clean icons that they can consume and claim, “I did / use that.” But when we stop and think about the mechanics of refurbishing or the benifits of recycling we realize that our goal as a culture and society should be balanced with both new and old. I love those old booths, they symbolize a time in our history that we should never forget or repeat. The can serve a new purpose with a little help and still dot the streets of London bringing nastalga and charm back to the streets.

    I hope someone uses this idea and saves that little part of British history.


    • Thank you, Colleen. It would be great to see them put to good use. They mustn’t disappear. On a very recent visit to London I saw a couple of tourists taking photographs of each other pretending to use the phones… I should have photographed them!


  2. I have had a response from the Mayor’s office, from Sara at the Great London Authority in charge of technology, advising that your idea sounded like an interesting one.
    The phone boxes are not the property of the City however, they belong to BT. It is thus up to them to determine their use. She directed me to BT payphone customer services.

    Within 24 hours of sending my last email, this is the response I received –

    What a fantastic city!

    ———- Forwarded message ———-
    Date: Fri, Oct 11, 2013 at 4:28 AM
    Subject: FW: Suggestion – Red telephone boxes
    To: colleenwaightsxx@gmail.com

    Dear Colleen

    Thanks for your suggestions. A lot of our phone boxes in urban locations are already used as Wi-Fi hotspots. If you’re a BT Broadband customer, these and other hotspots are free.

    Regarding using the boxes as a mobile charging facility. I’m not sure how this idea would work. Would people be prepared to stay inside a payphone while their mobile was charged up? And wouldn’t it then prevent someone else from using the box. I’m not sure how much we could charge for such a service and would we recuperate the necessary outlay? I think we’d prefer people to use the box to make a phone call if their mobile is short of charge.

    What we’re currently doing to “reinvent” the red phone box is to offer them for adoption. Public bodies and registered charities can buy them from us for £1 and put them to alternative use. A lot of defibrillators have been installed and there are some very imaginative conversions all over Britain. I had a request earlier today from a parish council who were hoping to use their adopted box as a greenhouse. Twitter has regular updates. Simply type “phone box” (with the inverted commas) into the search box and you’re bound to see some examples.

    I suggested a couple of years ago converting phone boxes so they used solar energy. The idea was rejected on the grounds of cost. It was a reasonable answer. We’re a declining business (because of mobiles) and I’d argue we save energy resources by removing phone boxes and thereby taking them from the electricity supply.

    I also suggested removing the equipment from a lot of our boxes in London and making them available as recharging points for electric cars. This idea was also rejected.

    I trust this addresses the points made in your email.

    Please let me know if you’ve any further questions.

    Kind regards

    BT Redcare and Payphones


    • Hi Colleen. I’m fascinated that you were able to follow this up! And equally fascinated by the series of replies. Thank you and yes, I agree, what a fantastic city. London is quite one of my favourite places in the world. No matter what happens, there is always something eminently civilised about it. And I love that.


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