SIXTY of West Berkshire’s public payphones – including iconic red telephone boxes in rural villages – are set to be removed, unless communities step in to ‘adopt’ them.
BT says that overall use of payphones has declined by more than 90 per cent in the last decade and, as a result, is proposing to get rid of the vast majority of them.
Figures show that 15 of the 60 phone boxes in West Berkshire that are set to be removed have not been used at all in the past year, while others have only been used a handful of times.
The most used telephone box in Newbury over the past 12 months has been the one by St John’s Post Office – with 387 calls in one year – an average of just over one call per day.
However, there is still a chance to stop them from becoming extinct.
Since BT launched its ‘Adopt a Kiosk’ scheme, more than 3,500 communities across the UK have seized the opportunity to convert their underused phone boxes into all manner of things.
In 2012, Bucklebury Parish Council adopted a phone box for £1 and transformed it into a book exchange.
The phone box outside the Bladebone Inn, Chapel Row, has become somewhere that people can swap novels.
In Ashampstead, residents have converted their underused telephone box into a mini library.
Further afield, in Cheltenham, 10 red phone boxes have been transformed into miniature art galleries showcasing the work of local artists.
And in Brighton, Eddie Ottewell and Steve Beeken launched Red Box Coffee – which sells hot drinks and ice cream from the two red telephone boxes they have adopted.
The Community Heartbeat Trust has installed defibrillators in disused phone boxes across the country.
In a letter to West Berkshire Council, BT said: “The need to provide payphones for use in emergency situations is diminishing all the time, with at least 98 per cent of the UK having either 3G or 4G coverage.
“This is important because as long as there is network coverage, it’s now possible to call the emergency services, even when there is no credit or no coverage from your own mobile provider.”
Newbury Town Council discussed what it wanted to do with the nine public payphones in the parish at a meeting last week.
The town council has three options to the proposals – it can object, not object or adopt a phone box for £1 for community use.
At a meeting last week, chief executive Hugh Peacocke said: “I am not sure any of them are extensively used.
“Apparently the one at St John’s Post Office is being used for purposes… well, let’s just say the post office are happy it is being removed.”
Elizabeth O’Keffe (Lib Dem, Victoria) told other councillors: “It is not really up to us is it? It is up to the community to decide.”
It only costs £1 to adopt a phone box. To start the process email firstname.lastname@example.org
Time is running out to have your say on the proposals – a 90-day public consultation will end on Monday, January 23.