Iconic row of Preston phone boxes set for a new lease of life

They are as iconic in Preston as the bus station and the infamous Fishergate Bollard.

Monday, 15th July 2019, 8:57 pm
Updated Monday, 15th July 2019, 9:57 pm
The row of red phone boxes outside the former Head Post Office in Market Street have seen better days

But Britain’s longest line of traditional red phone boxes, outside the former Head Post Office in Market Street, have stood forlorn and forgotten for years.

Now the instantly recognisable symbols of Britishness, which have adorned the city centre for decades, could finally be about to get a facelift ... and possibly a bright new future.

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The row of red phone boxes outside the former Head Post Office in Market Street have seen better days

Concern by business leaders has prompted the Red Kiosk Company to promise the seven boxes it owns will be smartened up by the end of this month.

They say interest is being shown in using the classic street furniture as “retail pods.”

And at least one business based in the centre of Preston is rumoured to be looking to take them over.

“We have noticed they aren’t in a great state of repair,” said Mark Whittle, manager of Preston’s Business Improvement District (BID).

The row of red phone boxes outside the former Head Post Office in Market Street have seen better days

“There is a lot of investment around that area, not to mention thousands of visitors expected to attend events over the coming months.

“So the iconic row of phone boxes really need some TLC.

“We’ve reached out to the Red Kiosk Company, who have responsibility for the boxes, and asked them to make good the assets, which they have agreed to do.

“They have also indicated that there has been some ‘interest’ in the phone boxes. So hopefully we’ll see a more permanent and positive use for them soon.

“I’m also aware that a city centre business has expressed an interest in taking the boxes over and bringing them back to life, so hopefully this will be considered.”

The nine phone boxes - the other two are owned by BT - have been a landmark in Preston for more than half a century.

Eight stand together in a line, with the ninth a further 20 metres along Market Street.

All the kiosks are the K6 design produced by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in 1935 to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V.

After they were left redundant by the age of mobile phones, plans to renovate some of the Market Street collection and turn them into mini retail pods were first lodged with Preston Council in 2014. The idea, by a charitable trust called Thinking Outside the Box, was given the civic thumbs up, subject to conditions.

But nothing has happened in five years since.

Now they are in a sorry state, rusting and vandalised, with smashed windows and filled with litter.

Edward Ottewell, of Thinking Outside the Box, said his company had received “various enquiries” for its seven boxes. “The reason nothing has happened yet is that we don’t want to let them to the wrong people,” he said.

“We want to put the right things in there, we don’t want people just selling junk from these boxes.

“We have also been approached to see if we will sell the boxes as a package and that is something we would consider if it was to the right buyer.

“Our aim all along is to help small start-up businesses and, if I’m honest, we have just found it hard to find the right sort of businesses in Preston.

“That site could be a fantastic hub for someone.

“We have a maintenance programme where every so many months we check them over and tidy them up, replace any broken windows and the like.

“They don’t look very good at the moment, but we will have refurbished them by the end of this month.”

New uses for a high street landmark

They are as quintessentially British as the double-decker bus and the Union Jack.At one time there were as many as 73,000 phone boxes across the UK. Today it is thought around 11,000 survive, although many are no longer in use.Campaigns to preserve the iconic piece of street furniture have saved thousands destined for the scrapheap. A crusade by the Twentieth Century Society turned out to be one of the organisation’s “most vigorous and successfully mounted.” Now hundreds of the remaining red kiosks are being put to good use as retail ‘pods’ selling things like coffee, flowers, souvenirs and ice cream.In Lancaster one now houses a defibrillator, one in Whittle-le-Woods has been converted into a mini-library. Others around the country have been turned into an art gallery, a shoe shine bar, a mini-beauty salon, a wildlife information centre, a cash machine, a salad bar, a pub and the country’s smallest disco, complete with glitter ball.

‘The greatest British design of all time’

The classic red phone box has been called the greatest British design of all time.In a poll in 2015 it beat icons including the double-decker bus, the Rolls-Royce car and Concorde by a country mile.Its designer was Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, also famous for Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral and Battersea Power Station.Sir Giles won a competition in 1924 to design a kiosk for use in London. His model, called K2 (Kiosk 2), was updated in 1934 to K6 to commemorate the silver jubilee of King George V.The “Jubilee Kiosk” became the most popular phone box across the UK, although it was not universally loved at the start, chiefly because of its bright colour.All nine of the boxes alongside the former Head Post Office in Preston are the K6 design, made of cast iron, each weighing 0.69 of a tonne and standing 8ft 3ins tall.