New uses found for red telephone boxes in and around Cambridge
Libraries, art galleries, cash machines and places to store defibrillators are just some of the imaginative ways the iconic British red telephone box has managed to stay in use in the age of the mobile phone.
In Cambridge, there are plans to turn one – currently used by a punting firm – into a coffee shop. Rutherford’s Punting has used the telephone box at the junction of Bridge Street and Quayside as a ticket office for the past three years.
Sister company The Cambridge Bar – which delivers refreshments by bike to Rutherford’s punt customers – is seeking planning permission to convert it into a coffee shop. Miriam Constantinou, general manager at Rutherford’s Punting, said: “We’ve got an idea in mind as to how it would work, because I know that congestion at Quayside is one of the main concerns.
“So when people come to order their coffee, they’ll have a text messaging service so they get a text when their coffee is ready. It’s been seen multiple times in different cities, and it really works. There are a lot of people that would love to have coffee on-the-go around that area – the footfall is great around there and I just think it’s such a quirky thing to do.
“It would be a great addition to Quayside – the demand is there and I think it’s a great idea. At the moment, we just use it for storage and marketing, more than anything else.”
Miriam says she loves to see abandoned telephone boxes back in use. “There are so many derelict phone boxes in Cambridge and Cambridge is a tourist city. I know obviously with Covid it’s not as much of an international tourist hotspot as it used to be, but it will be in the future, and one of the appeals is the phone boxes against the traditional architecture and rivers.
“It’s just a shame to see so many derelict phone boxes that have been left to collect cobwebs, or be smashed in and things like that, so to revive it to its best would really appeal to people.”
The plans were submitted by RKC Estates Ltd, a commercial real estate company specialising in the lettings and sales of red telephone boxes throughout the UK. The firm has two other red telephone boxes in the city – one at the junction of St Andrew’s Street and Emmanuel Street, which is rented, and one adjacent to the Master’s Lodge at St John’s College, Bridge Street, which is not.
RKC Estates’ first two selfcontained food and beverage kiosks within the shell of the telephone boxes were launched on New Road, near Pavilion Gardens in Brighton, and the concept was conceived by businessmen Eddie Ottewell and Steve Beeken.
Meanwhile, there are plans afoot to turn the red telephone box on Fen Ditton High Street into a mini-library and location for a defibrillator. “We are working to decide which defibrillator to acquire, and once that’s installed we will look at how to use the remaining space for some kind of book exchange,” said Fen Ditton councillor Mark Easterfield. Using the library “would most likely be free and unrestricted”, adds Mark of the books service. You red it here first!
Additional reporting: Mike Scialom