Moorhouse Dials up the Pressure in Bid to Save Phone boxes

Once a vital tool for communication, the island’s red phone boxes have gradually disappeared in recent decades. Now, one MHK wants to know what will happen to those that are left.

Arbory, Castletown and Malew MHK Jason Moorhouse is seeking support in Tynwald to help find a future for the remaining boxes, responsibility for which falls to Manx Telecom.

Mr Moorhouse said his motion has four main objectives:

  • That Manx Telecom should publish its strategy for maintaining the remaining Red Phone boxes on the island and recognises the historical nature of the iconic Red Phone box.
  • Encourage MT’s policy to enhance Manx life by repurposing some boxes in their current locations and to find alternative ways to cover the costs of retaining the telephone boxes.
  • Raise concerns about the rushed nature of the current policy to remove the telephone boxes and the failure to adhere to agreements with at least one local company and Commissioners to preserve iconic telecoms infrastructure for the safety and wellbeing of local people.
  • Calls on the Council of Ministers to raise concerns with Manx Telecom over its failure to adhere to the Telecoms Code with specific reference to the Public Notice placed in several Public Call boxes – This should be corrected and this process restated.

Speaking to Gef, Mr Moorhouse said he hopes his motion will ‘be viewed by the Board of Manx Telecom as being positive and an effective way to open up a positive dialogue between MT, local people and businesses’.

The MHK said that 35 phone boxes across the island are displaying a ‘Public Notice’ which he said ‘clearly states that time is limited’.

He added: ‘Manx Telecom’s decision is based on the low number of calls which have been made from the kiosk – In the last twelve months this fell below 40. However, for over a third of the period the island was in lockdown and the number of tourists arriving was effectively zero. 

‘The core purpose of this Motion is to encourage MT to restart the current process, so that it can move forward in a more appropriate way, by promoting active discussions with local people and businesses to ensure that many of the iconic red boxes are able to remain at their current locations. Local people and businesses have shown an eagerness to support them financially or to work together to find new and appropriate uses for the historic landmarks. However, communication with Manx Telecom during this period has been incredibly challenging due to the Lockdown and the Easter break.’

Future

In the digital age we live in, it is hard to see a genuine future for the phone boxes in their current guise. However, the boxes themselves are part of our built history and, as the box at Agneash shows, some have become landmarks in their own right. Some former phone boxes have already been converted for new uses, back in 2017, a phone box in Patrick was converted into a kiosk for a defibrillator and others have been transformed into book swaps. 

Digi Detox

For those of us old enough to remember life before Covid, the future for the island’s phone boxes could well be in the past. Last February, to much fanfare on and off island, the gov launched the Phoneboxes initiative. The plan was to help visitors relax and enjoy the Isle of Man’s natural beauty by encouraging visitors to lock their mobile phones away on arrival for the duration of their trip in return for traditional, analogue alternatives. 

In exchange, people would be given:

  • A One Stop Guide to the Isle of Man
  • A film camera
  • A packet of postcards and stamps
  • A map of the Isle of Man
  • Bird and plant identification books
  • A selection of binoculars and magnifying glasses
  • Travel journal and notepad
  • Itinerary Inspiration Ideas
  • Pack of playing cards
  • A Guide to your digital detox for a better life

Whether or not that holiday scheme will return post Covid, who knows. But with the gov seeking to find ways to bring in tourists to the island, a digi detox could be one of those ways forward in which case a quaint island with steam trains, rolling countryside, horse trams (maybe) and working red phone boxes may have some value. 

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