A PHONE box has become home to so many books operator BT has had to ask that it be cleared out.

The traditional red telephone box doesn’t look out of place, save for a few stickers plastered over its windows, at the corner of the Roath Park Pleasure Gardens in one of Cardiff’s 27 conservation areas.

But look a bit closer and inside the kiosk, that you can imagine was surely the height of sophistication when it was first erected across from the grand Victorian houses opposite the park, and you will see it is filled with books.

“It’s a lending library,” explains a woman passing by. “My partner mentioned it to me and I said I thought it was an excellent idea and quite inventive.”

While the iconic kiosks have been officially adopted in many parts of Wales when they are no longer needed, this working example first transformed from phone box to community book store during the first UK-wide lockdown in spring 2020.

Gradually the number of books kept in the kiosk crept up. They are no longer confined to the shelf intended for callers to scribble notes as they made calls, and the space once occupied by the BT Phone Book, the only tome you would previously expect to find hereinside a kiosk.

Now a free-standing shelf, that is collapsing under the weight of its load, has also been placed inside as every available space has a book. Among the paperbacks and romantic novels, there is former US president Bill Clinton’s autobiography and more practical options including ‘The Highway Code’ and an appropriate text book titled ‘Telecommunications’.

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Local mum Beth Nicholls, who was passing the phone box with her two young sons on their bikes, said that though she liked the idea she has been unsure about using it.

“I would use it if it wasn’t in Covid times. It started soon after the first lockdown and I thought it was a good idea,” she said.

“It’s a good thing for the community especially if people are lonely but I didn’t like that we didn’t know much about Covid at the time so didn’t want to touch anything,” she said.

On Ninian Road a couple sitting in their garden, who asked not to be named, said they had noticed the call box was being regularly used for taking and depositing books.

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“Quite a lot of people were taking stuff out and popping stuff back in, including on the weekend. I think it’s been used quite a lot,” they said.

“Years and years ago we used to use it for the phone when we first moved to Cardiff and lived in a flat further down the road.”

Across Wales phone boxes that have been listed for closure have been formally passed to local communities and put to used for a variety of purposes including art galleries and for tourist information materials.

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Telecoms firm BT says it is impressed with how kiosks have been repurposed but the number of books has caused a problem here.

Inside is a BT a poster appealing for them to be removed so engineers can test the phone.

“We love the creative way you’ve used this space, but unfortunately the payphone here is still in use,” reads the poster.

“The phone box needs to be kept clear so people can make calls and our engineers can carry out tests and repairs.

“If you could remove the items you’ve stored here, we’d really appreciate it.”

For now however the books, and the unofficial library, remain in place though BT says it is in talks with Cardiff council and it could allow the box to be adopted by the local community for just £1.

A BT spokesman said it had placed the poster there after sending an engineer when damage was reported at the phone box where the door has been removed.

“Due to the damage, we’ve requested that the books be removed so that we can repair the phone box.

“We’re consulting with Cardiff council on the potential of this underused kiosk being adopted by the community for it to be transformed permanently into a local asset. For iconic red kiosks, we encourage communities or charities to adopt them for only £1, so they can transform them into things like lifesaving heart defibrillator units, or libraries as in this case.

“More than 430 of BT’s phone boxes have already been adopted by communities across Wales, and more than 300 phone boxes in Wales are still available for adoption, including eight in Cardiff, through our website.”

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