‘Perfect solution’ helps save Banbury phone box library

Councillor Kieron Mallon, leader of Banbury Town Council, is pictured inside the phonebox on Oxford Road. The council and BT reached an agreement to keep the phonebox and put up a separate red kiosk to use as a library. NNL-150323-153836001
Councillor Kieron Mallon, leader of Banbury Town Council, is pictured inside the phonebox on Oxford Road. The council and BT reached an agreement to keep the phonebox and put up a separate red kiosk to use as a library. NNL-150323-153836001

Banbury’s phone box library has finally been saved after a unique agreement between the town council and BT.

The deal means the town will keep a working pay phone and get a phone box library – news which will delight many residents in the town who passionately fought against the eviction notice served by BT last month.

The deal was struck when BT agreed to give Banbury another red kiosk which will be installed outside St John’s RC Church, alongside the existing box. It will be fitted with shelving and filled with books.

Councillor Kieron Mallon, leader of Banbury Town Council, said: “This is an extremely generous offer from BT, and this is a perfect solution. It is not unusual to find two red phone boxes side by side – and having a community library and a working pay phone in South Bar will be the best of both worlds. This is a positive outcome when all seemed lost.”

The story attracted national publicity when a local resident installed shelves and books inside the kiosk. The idea was that passers-by would borrow the books and return them – and add new books to the collection.

But after a complaint from a phone user, BT ordered the removal of the books on health and safety grounds.

Banbury Town Council offered to adopt the phone box and BT agreed – but would not allow dual use. BT said the phone box could be a pay phone or a library but not both. The council then decided that the pay phone was more important than the library and it looked as though the story would end there.

But the issue took a new turn this week when Mr Mallon and town council clerk Mark Recchia met BT’s operations general manager Gareth McWilliams, who offered to donate a disused red phone box, minus the phone. The town council would then install and maintain it.

Mr McWilliams said: “BT has been extremely keen to find the right solution for everyone involved and to ensure this tale has a happy ending. We’re only too aware of the fondness with which people hold the traditional red phone boxes.

“This is clearly shown by the popularity of our payphone adoption scheme, which was developed to enable communities to keep their local red phone box and put them to different uses after they were no longer used for this original purpose.

“It’s simply not feasible for us to let anyone install any additional equipment or items in any of our working payphones. Hopefully the idea we have developed with the council is the right answer for Banbury.”