The mobile phone has got a lot to answer for. The benefits of having a smart communication device in the pocket are very evident. Indeed a couple of the images above were shot using a mobile phone, but there is at least a small cost to our mobile world. For the ordinary phone box in recent years, there has been a gradual but dramatic change of roles.
Recently I started to go through the images stored on my computer. I usually have a few editing sweeps over images stored on the machine as good images can often be missed, especially if the numbers of photographs are high. Amongst all the Scottish landscapes and other images were several good shots of a British institution. An icon of Britishness that is gradually fading away. The classic red telephone box.
At their peak, there were 92,000 telephone boxes located around the UK. That number is now around 21,000 and with the telephone system switching over to digital by 2025, that number is likely to drop even further over the next few years. With mobile phone ownership at high levels (96% of adults have a mobile according to the telecoms regulator Ofcom) phone calls from these bright red boxes have dropped considerably.
The Right Change
The phone box featured in the images taken in September 2021 was located on a remote road near Pitlochry in the Highlands. The local community had changed the box to become a very small, but perfectly functional, library complete with a noticeboard. A few bags of books were also on the floor. Over 6000 phone boxes have been changed over to a different use according to OFCOM with communities able to ‘buy’ their phonebox for as low as £1.00. As well as libraries some community phone boxes have been utilized to house life-saving public defibrillators.
It will be interesting to see how the old red phone box fares over the next few years. Ofcom has said that a number of phone boxes will remain in service where mobile signal reception is not good. The active phone boxes will have to earn their keep though. Usage targets of at least 52 times over a 12-month period for it to stay in service will be applied. A call box in an accident or suicide hotspot can’t be removed.