Repurposing spaces for retail – Red Phone Boxes become Mobile Repair Shops

22nd September 2016

As retail designers, here at Barber Design we do like to see an interesting space being re-used creatively for retail – so this story about some of the UK’s most iconic high street stalwarts really captured our imagination this week! A new startup company has just embarked on an exciting mission to turn more than 40 disused red phone boxes into mobile phone repair booths – repurposing spaces for retail in some of London’s best shopping hotspots where prime selling space is scarce!

Photo by Mike Petrucci on Unsplash

Photo by Mike Petrucci on Unsplash

As mobile phones have become ubiquitous in society, so the need for phone booths has diminished – but the bright red kiosks remain in thousands of locations throughout the UK. Whilst many have tried to develop new ways to make sure that the booths retain some sort of purpose and relevance, this new idea by new UK company ‘LoveFone’ has to be the best we’ve seen.

For many people mobile phones have become an extension of their being, used for so much more than making calls – with apps, cameras, browsers, games, social media and messaging – some rarely use them for making calls at all – but when tragedy strikes and a mobile phone breaks it can be devastating! Just one false move and it could slide out of your pocket into the toilet or the screen smashes on the floor. Even something as simple as a dead battery can cause anxiety or frustration – as you feel disconnected from your social network before locating and plugging into a power source. LoveFone have identified these weaknesses in the mobile user experience and addressed it with convenient mobile support – by transforming red phone booths into repair shops and charging stations for needy urbanites.

Since the rise of the mobile, our beloved red phone boxes have been slowly disappearing – disconnected or sold off, causing some enthusiasts to find ways to keep them in position by using them for other things. The red phone box first appeared in the UK in 1936, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the celebrated British architect who also designed Waterloo Bridge, Liverpool Cathedral and Battersea Power Station. The little red boxes with their series of glass panes are recognised throughout the globe as an unequivocal symbol of Britishness.

Starting in London, LoveFone plan to repurpose six phone boxes in Greenwich and Knightsbridge – with plans to spread to a further 35 locations within 18 months of their initial launch. The phone boxes will be leased via a Brighton-based company called Red Kiosk who use some of their profits to fund projects in the community surrounding each phone box – so everyone benefits from the scheme.

Once each phone box has been refitted, it will become a repair space for a lone mobile repair engineer to work from. Creating the new retail space within each booth was a bit of a challenge for the firm as they had to work within the cast iron structure of each kiosk whilst also maintaining the heritage features which makes each one so special. Each booth contains a wooden workbench and a storage unit containing equipment and spare parts for different makes of phone. The windows of each phone box are kept clear – providing a shopfront for people to peer in and view what is going on inside each miniature workspace. The focus of LoveFone repairs is efficiency and convenience, with the best possible result. They want the service to be as accessible as using a payphone – and the charging docks will be free to use.

According to Red Kiosk who are leasing the booths to LoveFone, this is just one more in a long line of innovative ideas for their booths. Over the last few years they have seen them turned into coffee shops, smoothie stalls and ice cream stands. At the core of Red Kiosk’s strategy is the desire to make a quantifiable and positive impact upon the local community that each kiosk serves. By giving a new lease of life to these iconic booths, they hope to create employment opportunities, regeneration and growth within their immediate vicinity. In addition to Red Kiosk, BT also runs an ‘Adopt a Kiosk’ scheme, which allows local communities, charities, or individuals to ‘buy’ a phone booth for £1 and re-purpose it for creative uses, such as a library or gallery. Since the launch of the BT program, more than 3,500 neighbourhoods across the UK have taken the opportunity to redevelop their local booth for the greater good.

As always, we’ll be interested to see if this idea takes off – but we do think that the idea of using the phone boxes to repair and recharge the things which made them obsolete in the first place is a brilliant idea – perhaps applicable to other spaces and things – we’d like to see this one roll out across the UK – and beyond.