A mother-of-three who turned an Essex village’s rundown red telephone box into a library has said the initiative provides the “magic” of books to those in the community.

Red telephone boxes are scattered across the country, with many being transformed into anything from food vendors to libraries.

Since 2008, BT’s Adopt a Kiosk scheme has allowed communities to purchase its redundant phone boxes for £1, with locations including Lewisham in south London and Sudbury in Suffolk among those making use of the spaces to create libraries for locals.

Open telephone box
The telephone box library before (Iona Connolly/PA)
Open telephone box with books inside
The telephone box library after (Iona Connolly/PA)

Iona Connolly, 35, has always been an avid reader and wanted to bring the “magic” of books to those in Stambourne.

She move there in September 2022 after previously living in both Harlow and Hackney, and happened upon an abandoned telephone box filled with old shelves which she transformed into a local library.

“I saw a telephone box in our village and it didn’t have the telephone inside, but old shelves, and it used to be used as a library, but then the person running it stopped because they moved away,” Ms Connolly told the PA news agency on World Book Day.

Ms Connolly, who does administration work at a private swim school part time – alongside homeschooling her three children, added: “I got this idea in my head where I thought – ‘I’m going to get this telephone box, it’s going to be my responsibility.’

“I wanted to do it to give something to the community.”

Other examples of red telephone boxes being utilised in unique ways include one in Russell Square, London, which was made into a cafe called Walkmisu, which sells tiramisu.

She got permission from Stambourne Parish Council in December 2022 to acquire the telephone box.

It has since undergone changes including having new shelves added in by her and her partner Ben, 35, and personal touches like signs added to the windows.

Words on glass
The telephone box library has sayings etched on the windows (Iona Connolly/PA)

“One of the little sayings I have on the telephone box is ‘books are magic’ because I just love that when you read books they can take you away to a different world, and I wanted to share the book magic with local people who would appreciate it,” she said.

She said her children have been “excited” by the library, and have helped to stack shelves and even create pictures to add to it in the past.

“My younger two (Jake, 10 and Ava, six) were so excited to be involved with it,” she said.

“When I went with crates of books to stack it up, they came with me and helped me stack the shelves.

“It is really nice and important for them to be involved as it is teaching them about giving back to your local community.”

People putting books in telephone box
Ms Connolly’s two younger children helping to add books to shelves in the telephone box library (Iona Connolly/PA)

She often sources books through local Facebook groups and then drives to people’s homes to collect them, but has encouraged those interested in donating books to not leave them in the library as the space is small.

She provides updates on additions to the library on both Instagram and Facebook, under the name stambourne_books, and receives regular messages from people who have made use of it.

“Not long ago, there was a lady who tagged me in an Instagram post and I hadn’t been on Instagram for a while and this video popped up of her talking and saying how she was driving through and she saw the telephone box, visited it and loved it,” she said.

Telephone box
Ms Connolly acquired the telephone box in December 2022 (Iona Connolly/PA)

“We then spoke through direct message and she offered to donate and send me some bookmarks that you then turn into plants, which I thought was such a lovely idea.”

She added it is “nice” when she drives around the area and sees people at the library, with the “doors closed behind them and having a look”.

She said seeing the progress made to the unique library has been “wholesome”, with the most enjoyable part being seeing the library packed with books, with the most popular genre being Thrillers.

“Seeing all the books stacked up and sectioned by book genres, and the before and after pics of the library, was lovely,” she said.

She said she hopes to do some themed events in future, adding: “I’ve seen other phone boxes where they will dress the phone box up to match whatever the theme is e.g. Easter or Christmas.”