‘Don’t patronise us, we’re not poor’ – pensioner tells council why Littleham’s ‘filthy’ phone box must go

A pensioner battling to rid Littleham of a ‘dirty hole’ phone box has hit out at council concerns it should stay because residents are ‘poor’.

Telecommunications giant BT has announced plans to scrap six underused phone boxes in Exmouth and has entered into a formal consultation with councils.

An 84-year-old woman from Littleham called Exmouth Town Council ‘arrogant and patronising’ after councillors spoke in support of keeping a working phone box on the junctions of Roseway and Capel Lane, because nearby residents ‘can’t afford’ mobile phones.

The 84-year-old woman called Jean, who did not wish to give her surname or address, said she had spent more than 10 years battling for the removal of the Roseway kiosk and lobbied the council during the last strike of phone box cuts in Exmouth.

Jean, a widow, said: “It’s about time it went, it’s atrocious, it’s filthy. It’s vandalised most of the time.
“I am surprised it’s had any calls over 12 months.

“It’s a dirty hole. It’s been vandalised, kids have put fireworks in it and blown the glass out. I don’t think any self-respecting person would go in it.

“Saying don’t take the phone box away because the people in that area are poor and don’t have mobile phones is very arrogant and patronising. Most people I see walking along have mobile phones.

“And surprise, surprise, most of us have landlines.”

The telecommunications giant has entered into a formal consultation of removing payphones in Littleham, Withycombe Raleigh, Brixington, Halsdon and The Avenues areas of Exmouth.

Exmouth Town Council has until October 10 to make its views known on the payphone removals; communities are encouraged to adopt red ‘heritage’ phone boxes for £1 and turn them into assets for the area.

BT figures show 79 calls were recorded over the last 12 months at the Roseway-Capel Lane phone box; 40 at Phear Avenue’s kiosk, five at Rivermead Avenue. Withycombe Village Road and Churchill Road both recorded 24, Cranford Avenue, 41.

Frank Cullis, town councilor for Withycombe, warned of the danger of being too nostalgic about phone boxes; he said they were a thing of the past and it was time to let them go.

Councillor Olly Davey said there were imaginative ways of using old phone boxes.

He hoped communities made aware of the kiosk removals would adopt their booth for £1 and find an alternative use.

Withycombe Village residents called their red phone box ‘nostalgic’, said it was a feature of the village and called for the booth to remain.

Peter Fielding, 63, of Nutbrook, Withycombe, said: “I want it to be refreshed; I would pay a few quid to keep it.

“I would like to see it refurbished. It adds to the look of the village. People are trying to keep it nice. The grass has been done and they come and do the flowers, then you have got that eyesore.

“I would rather see it as a bit of a feature. We are a small village and it’s good as a tourist attraction when you see a nice old English phone box.”

Gary Fisher, 64, of Burnside, said: “They are needed. Everyone has a mobile phone, but they don’t have a landline.

“It’s part of the village. If they can paint it up and take the phone out, they might stop the kids taking it off the wall.

Sean Richards, 42, of Burnside, said: “Take the phone out but the box needs to stay there. I am sure something can be done with it.

“It’s part of the village. It’s nostalgic, seeing the red box.”

BT’s proposals to remove the town’s underused payphone were discussed at Exmouth Town Council’s August meeting and councillors are to send in their written comments.

Councillor Lynne Elson said there was a ‘borderline’ case to keep a working payphone at Phear Avenue because of mobile phone signal issues.

She urged the council to support the Roseway-Capel Lane phone box because of the number of elderly and disabled residents living nearby, adding ‘probably there is some network but a lot of people haven’t got mobile phones because they can’t afford them.’

She said: “My main concern is the one in Roseway-Capel Lane. There are elderly and disabled people in Roseway and the type of area it is, many of them don’t have mobile phones and there is a quite a substantial number of people who have a disability or are poorly.”

Councillor John Humphreys said there was a ‘need’ to keep the Cranford Avenue phone box bordering Jarvis Close because of the number of residents who were council tenants or elderly.

Andrew Toye, ward member for Halsdon, said red-painted GPO phone boxes were ‘iconic’ to many, saying ‘they can be put to an alternative use’.

Frank Cullis, ward member for Withycombe, said: “There’s a danger of being too nostalgic about phone boxes. They are a thing of the past. They are not used anymore.”

He added: There’s talk of them being a feature. When I walk past the one in Withycombe, it’s full of broken glass and a car tyre. It hasn’t been used.

“There’s talk of the council adopting them for £1. Who will be responsible for the upkeep of replacing these broken windows every time they were vandalised?

“Would it be just a burning tyre around our necks, taking them on? I think it’s just time we let them go.”

Councillor Paul Millar said: “The payphone in Rivermead Avenue was used five times in twelve months. Unfortunately, I can see no way any way of keeping that public phone box open.

“There are alternative uses including book swapping, and getting the community involved.”

He added: “Where they are not being used, we have to prepare for that – that BT may well conclude there’s no case for them staying – and look at what other alternative uses can be found for them.”

Councillor Olly Davey said: “I’m a regular visitor to Porlock, which has a lovely phone box, which is regularly used by somebody to post poems in it.

“I have seen phone boxes used as libraries, as book swap areas, I have seen them used as tiny little jumble sales where you can get spoons and anything you have forgotten when you are camping.

“There are imaginative uses of old phone boxes. What I would like to see is communities made well aware that there is a proposal to remove a phone box and they can adopt it for £1, and then come up with imaginative uses for it.”

Exmouth BT phone boxes

BT”s list of phone boxes for removal.

BT phone boxes Exmoth

The list shows the number of calls made to Exmouth’s BT phone boxes in the last 12 months.

BT phone boxes Exmouth

BT has recorded the number of calls made to underused phone boxes in Exmouth.

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