In early 2020 resident Sofia Soboleva decided to paint the red phone box in her street which made others spot the small sign inside saying that BT planned to remove it and how to link to the scheme for communities to Adopt-A-Box.

Balerno Village Trust (BVT), as a registered charity, was able to adopt the box. They were very happy to do so, and once the legal paperwork was concluded and the box taken under our general insurance, BVT became the owners of the Harlaw Road Red Phone Box.

This adoption coincided with Covid-19 and as the box became a site for promoting the myriad of local walks that locals and visitors might be less familiar with, as well as a place to swap small items, it was decided to adapt the box as a community service point during the lockdown.

Making it happen

11 local walks with maps and descriptions, were positioned in the glass panels facing outwards to enable people to photograph and read the walks without touching anything. QR codes allow people to access the routes on their phones.

As the volume of ‘day walkers’ up Harlaw Road steadily increased, more and more people stopped at the box to read the walks.

I had lovely (socially distanced) chats with people, pointing out, amongst other things, the ‘secret field access’ between the houses on Harlaw Road. It felt good to have these accidental chats, something that had suddenly stopped in the daily routine of commuting, shopping etc. Lynn Molleson, BVT Trustee

The walking routes were also collected in a leaflet that could be picked up in the Phone Box. On the last page local shops, cafes and pubs where advertised for free as a promotion of the local businesses.

The ‘I share box’ sign was printed up and residents began to leave items like books, puzzles, and small plants in the box for anyone passing to collect.

The Red Phone Box was advertised on Balerno Cares Facebook page and overnight it became a popular community service. People, particularly out and about with kids, stopped in to see what new puzzles, games and books they could swap for. Sometimes It was difficult to manage a growing volume of donations, which regularly over-spilled the box.

One of the shielding elderly neighbours loves puzzles and enjoyed that tricky ones were left in the box to challenge the boredom.

“The response of local people to the project was amazing.  Every day I find more books, games, and objects than yesterday. My shed is overfilled with books and I could happily supply 3-4 other telephone boxes!” Sofia Soboleva – Coordinator of the Red Phone Box BVT subgroup.

Things to consider

Concerns were raised about the box itself becoming a possible transmission route for the virus and we took action to consult professionals on the protocols at the time for transmission on different surfaces. The door to the box was wedged open, surfaces and the door handle thoroughly cleaned every day.

Notices were put inside reinforcing the rigorous handwashing (The Trust supply antibac soap and wipes inside the box) and people were advised to leave the items they pick up outside their homes for at least 48 hrs. BVT decided that with these risks assessed and mitigated, to keep the box open and believe people appreciated this during the lockdown months.

Sometimes people donated “weird and wonderful” things to the box like a XXL Samsonite suitcase – bigger than the Telephone box. And at times the coordinator announced a temporary book donation moratorium until the current stock was lowered to a reasonable level.

Key to the success of the project was to have a coordinator who keeps the box tidy and stock turning over.

Residents have beem asked to stick to donating garden plants and seeds, packed food, books, CD discs, puzzles, and games. Garden stuff and puzzles are always in a high demand, and homemade chutneys, kefir, kombucha.

Top Tips

  • Position walk maps and descriptions in the glass panels facing outwards so people can photograph and read the walks without touching anything.
  • Use QR codes to allow people to access the routes on their phones.
  • Apart of the practical objects BVT decided to place “a museum on a wall” - some information about the history of Balerno, old maps and pictures. It was entertaining and educational.
  • Allow local groups and business to place their advertising and potentially it could become a real information hub.

Who can help?

The Adopt a Kiosk scheme enables your community to retain its iconic red kiosk. The Adopt a Kiosk scheme has been successful in transforming unused payphone kiosks and preserves the heritage of the red kiosk, particularly in rural locations. BT allow red kiosks to be adopted, subject to certain criteria such as low use and those not required for our own plans.

A grant from The Community Chest allowed for the printing of 1500 walk leaflets. Funding bodies can be found through Funding Scotland

You can find out more about the local greenspace in your area by using Scotland’s Greenspace Map.

If you want to create new walking routes using GIS mapping the greenspace data is also available as an open dataset for communities and businesses to create products and services that will encourage healthier and greener lifestyles. OS Greenspace covers urban and rural areas, providing site extents and access points.

Visit the Red Phonebox online