Saturday, March 03, 2012

village phone box reborn as a library

above: the event as reported in the Hunts Post, 7 March

Edward and Andrew Baily

On Thursday I travelled out of London to the Cambridgeshire village of Hemingford Abbots for the opening of the former BT phone box in the High Street in its new incarnation as a free 24-hour mini-library known as the Swap Box. March 1 was chosen as the date of the opening of as it was World Book Day. My twin uncles Edward and Andrew Baily had been given the honour of jointly cutting the red ribbon with two pairs of scissors. The event attracted much local interest: photographers present included representatives from the Hunts Post and Cambridge Evening News.

Edward and Andrew, who are poets and avid readers, have lived in the charming village dotted with thatched houses for nearly 40 years. They were also loyal long-time users of the phone box in the days before before their cottage was finally fitted with a BT landline.

a little light reading from the Swap Box

BT sold the phone box to the village for the princely sum of £1.00. After repainting, the box was fitted with shelves filled with books, magazines, DVDs, cassettes and videos donated by the villagers. The idea is that anyone who removes a book or other item replaces it with an item in similar condition, thereby keeping the stock ever replenished. The box remains unlocked 24/7.

The twins' initial donation to the Swap Box was the novel Fludd by Hilary Mantel and The Ringmaster by Morris West. A fellow villager had donated a run of paperbacks by Bernard Cornwell, author of books featuring Sharpe who was memorably portrayed by actor Sean Bean in a TV series. (The administrators of the Swap Box apparently at first thought on hearing of the donation of Cornwell books that it was a set of guide books and the like on Cornwall).

Edward and Andrew with Councillor Bates

A short speech was made at the ribbon cutting by councillor Ian Bates, of Huntingdonshire District Council who represents the Hemingfords and Fenstanton on Cambridgeshire County Council where he is cabinet member for growth and planning. He joked that when he had seen the twins' names he had thought of another Edward and Andrew: "we've got the royalty here at the moment!" He thanked the Village Hall committee: "A lot happens behind the scenes and they need to be thanked by the community for the work that they do not just today." He also thanked Edward and Andrew for agreeing the cut the ribbon and said "I am told that this used to be their phone - they've really claimed it back now. They used it for 35 years actually as their phone."

spread in the Village Hall

The ceremony was followed by tea and delectable homemade cakes in the large village hall which opened in 2004. I was struck again by the warmth of the community in Hemingford Abbots. There are village lunches in the Village Hall on the third Tuesday of every month except July and August, and art classes, yoga, whist drives and many other activities are also held there.
Susannah Tarbush

Polly Harper with the twins

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