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Phone box's new calling

By This is Somerset  |  Posted: November 16, 2009

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It's a telephone exchange-turned- book exchange for a phone box in Westbury-sub-Mendip.

People can now engage in a great reading experience thanks to the phone box being reinvented as the UK's smallest public library.

Janet Fisher from the village came up with the idea when the community lost its traditional red phone box and its mobile library in quick succession.

The villages of Somerset have become littered with overgrown and neglected phone boxes as mobile phone ownership has made them redundant.

In Westbury-sub-Mendip the familiar icon had served the village for more than 50 years, but looked set to vanish.

BT has been contacting villages around Somerset for the past few years offering the phone boxes to communities, rather than the telecommunications giant incurring the expense of moving them.

As Westbury had recently lost the services of the mobile library, Janet suggested turning the phone box into a book exchange.

Residents could bring their read books and swap them for someone else's, free of charge, she suggested. Janet enlisted the help of neighbour and parish councillor, Bob Dolby, who ensured the paperwork and approvals for a change-of-use were in place.

Then BT sold the box to Westbury Parish Council for £1.

Bob, Jan and fellow villagers cleaned the box, installed the shelves and begged and borrowed the first books.

Now villagers young and old have a new library and the future of the villages' familiar landmark is secure.

"I only suggested the idea because I knew it would get done. Westbury is a village of doers and things happen,"Janet said.

"It's a village that gets things done."

The post office introduced the first phone boxes in the 1920s.

The public was so horrified by their poor design that three leading architects of the day were asked to come up with something better.

A design by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who designed Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral, was considered the best.

This design remained in use until British Telecom changed it in 1984 to the more utilitarian style now seen in most cities.

Westbury is one of only 500 villages in England to 'adopt' a box, the others have either been sold-off to members of the public to be used as bars and showers or are destined for the scrap heap.

Nicky Venning Community Correspondent

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