Friday, May 3, 2024

Shaldon, Devon

Reuse it!

In the list of things that need to be done but which are better put off till tomorrow, book-weeding is near the top. When bookpiles stealthily grow like silent stalagmites on the bedroom floor, it’s an indication that there’s no let-up in the book-buying. My shelves of English architectural history, of English literature, of books about places, music, art, keep growing. And the Resident Wise Woman is adding to the accumulation with her collection of contemporary poetry. Our house is not of infinite size. It’s not even large. So occasionally, I try to go through my shelves, weed out some volumes I think I no longer need, and make room for the recent acquisitions.

The few that make it off the shelves and into cardboard boxes go either to second-hand booksellers or – mostly these days – to charity shops. That way, I feel better about things by telling myself I’m doing some good with these rejected treasures. There has been the odd one – usually an obsessively re-read book that has actually fallen to pieces – that has had to go into the fortnightly recycling collection. But on the whole, if my redundant books eventually reach new homes, that’s a plus as far as I’m concerned. Re-use is better than recycling.

It’s similar with redundant buildings. If a building is no longer needed for its original purpose, there’s often an impulse to demolish it and start again. But often it’s far less wasteful to find a new user who’ll take it on, fill it with activity, and maintain it. Years ago I wrote a trio of books to accompanying the BBC’s series Restoration, about rescuing historic buildings that were empty, abandoned, or at risk. I quickly realised that the key step in this process was working out what each structure’s new use could be.

The buildings in those programmes ranged from large country houses to modest workshops. But none of them was as modest as a telephone kiosk. Red telephone boxes are vanishing from Britain’s streets. They’re out of touch with the times now we all have mobile phones and some of them are hardly used at all.

The telephone box was brilliantly designed by Giles Gilbert Scott. Its curving roof, glazed doors and sides, its sign, and its red paint make it instantly recognisable – it’s almost as powerful symbol of our country as a Union Jack or the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament. The red box is ideal for its intended purpose. It must have seemed that such a tiny structure could do little else if it was ever found to be redundant. And yet the truth has proved very different. Communities that want to save their telephone boxes have found all sorts of uses for them – miniature libraries or art galleries, places to house defibrillators, village information hubs, mini-museums, even planters . I’d need quite a few telephone boxes to house even the books I ought to get rid of. But when I saw this box in Shaldon, with its shelf of books, I was impressed. It’s a charity shop in little, with a bit of this, a bit of that, books included, to raise money for a local good cause. Creative re-use exemplified.* When I passed it a while back, both the idea and its realisation shed some welcome light on a dull and rainy day.

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* With the exception of the clunky font used for the signage, which could be much better.


George said...

A friend, an enthusiast of therapy, spoke of session with a group of couples. The woman in one couple complained that the man had parked an old school bus in the front yard, which he used to store books. The bus, as I recall, was immobilized in some way, perhaps up on blocks. He saw nothing wrong with this. It would be hard to get away with that sort of thing where I live, but within a hundred miles I could find towns that would tolerate it. Of course, my wife never would tolerate it.

Philip Wilkinson said...

George: Thank you for your comment. An old school bus in the front garden would not go down very well where I live either. As an inveterate book-buyer, however, I do have some sympathy – somewhere else to store books is always welcome!