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By Rachel Elbaum
LONDON — The red phone box is one of the most iconic symbols of Britain.
But in the age of the cellphone, many have fallen out of use. The company that owns them is now making a renewed push to encourage communities to adopt and transform them into something else.
Charities and local groups are being offered the boxes for just £1 ($1.30).
Telecom firm BT originally put them on the market in 2008. Some have become mini-stores, restaurants and even a photographic studio.
The Community Heartbeat Trust has adopted around 1,000 red phone booths around the U.K. and placed defibrillators in them to help locals having a heart attack.
“The advantage from our point of view is that defibrillators need to be in a central location and phone kiosks are mostly centrally located. They are iconic, people find them easily, they often appear on maps and sat navs and they are good, sheltered locations,” said Martin Fagan, the charity’s national secretary.
Community defibrillators are used on average once a year, he said.
In the last month alone, the organization has adopted another 50 or so phone booths.
Businessman Edward Ottewell has purchased 124 of the boxes and now rents them out.
“We set this up to give small, independent businesses a chance,” said Ottewell, who owns the Red Kiosk Company.
Photographer Chris Wood started renting a red phone box next to the British Museum last month and turned it into a royal-themed photo booth where you can try on a replica of Queen Elizabeth II’s crown and have your photo taken with a cardboard cut-out of the monarch.
“I always had an idea of wanting to photograph tourists. When you’re laughing with the queen’s crown on your head, and she’s standing next to you inside a phone box, that’s your holiday pic right there,” said Wood, 60, who in his previous career as a photojournalist captured the real queen and Princess Diana.
Between 30 and 50 tourists stop at his stand each day and pay the equivalent of $7.70 to have these professional photos taken and printed. It more than covers the $387 monthly rent on the booth he pays to the Red Kiosk Company.
While red phone boxes may be popular with tourists, they were replaced in the 1980s by a more modern and less photogenic version.
Around 5,000 red phone boxes remain among the 31,000 total payphones in the U.K.
Food cart owner Idriss Bouaziz signed a 15-year lease on a red phone box in the center of London last year through Ottewell’s company.
He had long run coffee carts around the capital and was looking for an interesting place to start a falafel stand.
“We wanted to come up with an idea that fits with the location. We put a gazebo next to the phone box for all of the supplies we need, and that allowed us to use the phone box as the place to fry the falafel,” Bouaziz said. “We get a lot of tourists who are amazed.”