(CNN) — From its pillar box red, cast iron exterior and domed roof to its crown insignia and paneled windows, the red British telephone booth is a universally recognized icon.
Giles Gilbert Scott’s famous design was first introduced following a competition in 1924, with variations appearing across the country, from London street corners to remote villages.
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More than 90 years later, the phone box is a popular backdrop for thousands of selfies, but thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones, these British classics are becoming obsolete.
Some, however, are being preserved as entrepreneurs and communities re-purpose them as unexpected places to swap books, buy coffee or even enjoy a meal.
Umar Khalid runs successful phone box cafe Kape Barako.
Giles Gilbert Scott brought a design which captured people’s imagination, he says.
“It was so different, it just looked dramatic on the street, in terms of how it appeared, with the windows, the domed roof, the red color.”
Adopt a phone box
Red Kiosk Company transformed these iconic kiosks at the end of Brighton pier.
Among them were two on the pier of the southern English seaside town of Brighton, which were spotted by locals Edward Ottewell and Steve Beeken.
“They were empty and run down and we thought we could sell sunglasses from the phone boxes and hats from this great location,” says Ottewell.
Khalid says his kiosk is regularly photographed, making numerous appearances on Instagram and Facebook.
Phone boxes = community
Scotland’s smallest internet cafe is situated in this Aberdeenshire phone box.
Phone boxes are often associated with Britain’s capital, but they can also be spotted in the country’s more rural areas.
In the Scottish hamlet of Marywell in Ballogie, bordering the Cairngorms National Park, the community has converted its local phone box into Scotland’s smallest Internet cafe — a digital oasis in the Scottish Highlands where 3G and 4G phone signals are hard to find.
Parker had the idea of connecting the WiFi from her gallery to the phone box and adding a hot drinks machine.
“It had to be repainted, we had to seal all of the panes, it was leaking quite badly,” Marywell resident David Younie says, adding that it’s helped bring residents together and has become a focal point in the picturesque hamlet.
Occasionally residents take the coffee machine out of the phone box. Not because of fear of burglary, but because they worry the water might freeze.
The Lewisham Micro Library is looked after by locals.
“Just the fact that you might be using it at the same time as someone else means you’re talking to people who would be total strangers otherwise,” says local “librarian” Susan Bennett.
The Lewisham phone box is beloved by the local residents, and initial fears of vandalism have proven unfounded.
“Generally it’s in good order because people want that,” says Bennett.
Working on the go
Working on the go? Check out Pod Works.
Its booths are decked out with printers, a 25-inch screen, a powerbank of plugs and a hot drinks machine.
Pod Works believe it’s the future of mobile working.
People sign up to be members, book slots at pods across cities and get sent an access code for their chosen kiosk.
“At the moment the phone boxes are derelict, they are becoming a bit of an eyesore. We wanted to re-purpose them for the 21st century,” says Lorna Moore, managing director of Pod Works.
Keeping the heritage
Will phone boxes become a thing of the past?
Two new types of modern, sleek phone kiosks will adorn British streets in 2017.
“The phone box has evolved, it’s still an access to telecommunications service, but of course the nature of those services has changed dramatically,” says Linge.
While some orignal red booths are protected as historic treasures, Ottewell worries others will simply be removed to make way for the new kiosks, leaving future opportunities for reinvention unlikely.
“We want to protect and save as many as we can,” he says. “It’s going to create employment, it’s going to regenerate an area that’s been left, and do some good.
“We want to protect our heritage.”