Calls to turn historic Highgate red telephone box into mini-library

Volunteers are clamouring to convert an iconic telephone box into a mini-library or tourist information centre as they protest against plans to install advertising inside.

Thinking Outside the Box (TOTB) has applied to install a LCD display inside a listed telephone box in Highgate High Street. It claims it has stepped in to save the booth from being removed by British Telecom (BT).

The LCD display would cover the cost of maintaining the booth with any remaining profits donated to a homeless charity, TOTB say.

But the proposal has sparked fury from some community members, who fear it will ruin the appearance of the historic booths.

The box in question has already had its phone removed by BT, enraging residents.

Veterinarian Allan Rapley, who along with lawyer Andrew Sulston spent months restoring the village’s telephone boxes last year, said: “It will drastically change the appearance of the phone box.

“When you look through the glass, you would see it.” Highgate Neighbourhood Forum (HNF) vice-president Simon Briscoe added: “These boxes are historic pieces of our national heritage.”

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The HNF has suggested that the phone booths could instead become lending libraries, or information hubs for lost tourists.

Mr Rapley and the Highgate Society is convinced TOTB will not win planning permission to convert the telephone box, as they claim the bid breaches rules banning adverts in listed booths in conservation areas. But they warn that the box could then be turned into a mini-coffee shop or ice-cream stall, as TOTB has done in other cities across the UK – competing with Highgate High Street’s struggling businesses. They also fear the village’s other boxes could also be taken over by TOTB.

But TOTB founder Edward Ottewell disputed the claims, and said he has successfully won permission to install advertising in two listed boxes in Bournemouth and Brighton. He added that he would welcome an offer from the community to rent the box and use it however they want as long as they are willing to pay for it.

TOTB owns several telephone boxes in Camden, including some in Hampstead which have been sealed off for about a year.

Mr Ottewell said: “BT was going to remove this phone box. What we do is we come in and save as many as we can, and maintain and refurbish them.”