Suffolk/Essex: Local councils adopt more than 150 iconic red phone boxes

THEY are as English as cream teas, Beefeaters, vicars on bicycles, David Beckham and the Queen.

And now villagers in Suffolk and Essex have made sure that 159 iconic red phone boxes will keep pride of place on the region’s high streets, commons and village greens.

The boxes, first seen in 1920, have been snapped up by town and parish councils for just �1 each after telecoms giant BT said it intended to scrap hundreds of under-used pay phones in the area.

New figures obtained by the East Anglian Daily Times show that, in three years, 151 boxes have been adopted by councils in Suffolk and Essex while the adoption of a further eight boxes, including ones in Stowmarket and Felixstowe, are currently “in progress”.

Some villagers have even applied to English Heritage to get their box listed and prevent it from being removed.

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In Suffolk, 51 phone boxes now are registered as Grade II listed buildings, meaning they are nationally important and of special interest. In Essex 52 kiosks have the same protection.

Maggie Bardzinski, Preston St Mary Parish Council clerk, said her village had decided to adopt a box almost two years ago, transforming the booth into a book- swap location.

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“We had a lot of discussion about it and what we would do with it if we did keep it,” she said. “We have had to paint it and maintain it but we have been lucky that one of our residents has taken it on. We last painted it for the Jubilee – it seemed fitting.”

“I would urge any parish council which hasn’t adopted their rural phone box to do so; it can be put to community use. It is important for rural heritage.”

But kiosk adoption has not been without minor controversies. Some quiet villages, whose kiosks have become swap-shops or mini libraries, have reported somewhat saucy reading material.

One villager, who asked not to be named, said: “At our book group everyone was talking about the Kama Sutra that had been left in the kiosk. I don’t know whether it was a joke or a test to see if someone would take it, but it got the village talking.”

Marilyn Bottomley, clerk for Icklingham Parish Council, Bradfield St George Parish Council and Horringer-cum-Ickworth Parish Council, has been involved in the adoption of three kiosks.

Mrs Bottomley said the kiosks in The Street, Icklingham, Hollybush Corner, Bradfield St George and The Street, Horringer, have all been re-decorated and will soon become a “focal point for the community” as either noticeboards or a book-swap.

A BT spokesman said that the use of many phone boxes, particularly in rural areas, was still very low. He added that although there was no hit-list of kiosks targeted for removal, the only way to safeguard a phone box was to adopt it from the company.

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