There’s always been something depressing about seeing an unused red phone box, especially for those of us who remember when they provided the only means of keeping in touch when out and about. It’s a bit like going to see an elderly aunt in a care home; you can’t help thinking about happier times when they were able to play a fuller part in society. In just the capital alone there are 8,000 of these boxes standing around doing nothing, although some others are being used as library facilities or as a home for medical equipment.
That is why it can only be good news that at least some of these unloved boxes in London are being given a new lease of life by being transformed into solar-powered mobile-phone charging stations. It’s a win, win situation; there will be less chance of seeing the decline of a once-loved iconic structure and less possibility of facing the frustration of trying to send an important text only to realise that you used up all your battery life playing Candy Crush on the train.
Of course, there are new innovations you can buy to give you your own solar-charging power on the move, such as the EnerPlex Packr 30L Rucksack with integrated USB Solar Charger, but these are not within everyone’s price range or may not be convenient for those needing to travel light. This is why the red phone box transformation marks a back-to-basics period for the street-side cubicle. They used to be the location of choice for people who could not afford their own mobile phones when they first came out, or those who didn’t want to carry around something the size of a transistor radio. Now they can fulfil this role again, but this time around it will be by allowing people to charge up their own mobile devices. You won’t have to handle a telephone handset that you were never quite sure if you should touch without first wrapping a hanky around your palm, and you definitely didn’t want to put it too close to your mouth.
One of the best bits about these new charging stations is that they will be free to use — forget pumping pounds into old telephone boxes only for someone’s answer machine to kick in. However, there will be adverts running inside.
The first station has just been revealed in Tottenham Court Road, and at least five more are set to follow thanks to the initiative of Kirsty Kenny and Harold Creston. They each feature an 86cm solar panel mounted on the roof of the box and feature charging stations to cope with varying models of phone. So far, around six people every hour have made use of the first box, which can charge around 100 mobiles each day. Just ten minutes of charging can restore your battery power by around 20 per cent.
Let’s just hope that these new boxes, painted in a snazzy green, don’t become the same targets for vandals that the old red versions were. Kirsty and Harold, formerly of the London School of Economics (LSE), are certainly trying to prevent this by featuring a reinforced advertising screen and ensuring that the boxes are locked at night.