IT has turned into the story with a happy ending: Banbury’s library in a phone box has been saved.

Last summer, a mystery benefactor built shelves and placed books in the classic red Gilbert Scott phone box outside St John’s Church, in South Bar Street, Banbury. The initiative proved popular with people borrowing and donating books.

But after BT last week said it wanted to halt the practice due to health and safety concerns, a campaign to save the phone box library resulted in the communications firm agreeing it could be ‘adopted’ by the town council for £1 instead.

Tim Tarby-Donald, who runs the Visit Banbury website, said: “It’s fantastic that the library will be there, and a lovely positive thing that the people of Banbury have achieved.”

More than 2,400 old boxes have been adopted nationwide from BT and house projects as diverse as book exchanges, tourist information centres, heart defibrillators and even an ale house.

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Sam Barnes, who owns Books & Ink Bookshop in White Lion Shopping Walk, said: “Anything that encourages the exchange of books and gets people reading, especially if they can’t afford to themselves, is brilliant. And it’s a great thing to have on the High Street.”

Banbury Town Council chairman Kieron Mallon confirmed it was to adopt the phone box and Hawkins Steel Ltd in Thorpe Way will offer new shelving.

But he added this is on the condition the phone box remain operational. Last year 1,093 calls were made from the box, the last functioning one of its kind in town.

He said: “We have made an offer to adopt it only if it remains fully functioning. We are not going to be party to the decommissioning of a classic phone box.

“The ball is firmly in BT’s court now.”

He added that the anonymous founder of the box supported the council in its assertion.

Last Tuesday, ((17/02)) a notice had appeared in the box from BT, which owns the box.

Citing health and safety concerns after one complaint about wobbly shelves, it had originally demanded the box was cleaned out.

Heart Thames Valley employee Meredith Christy, 39, from Grimsbury, said at the time: “The phone box is a lovely idea and does absolutely no harm. To be honest, there’s a risk in everything. This is health and safety gone mad.”

Banbury MP Sir Tony Baldry also waded in, saying: “Sometimes I have to check that I am not losing a sense of perspective but I am somewhat at a loss to understand how a few books in a telephone booth can be a health and safety issue.”

A BT spokesman said: “Banbury Town Council has approached us to adopt this red phone box. BT is delighted that we are now negotiating a solution for the preservation of this Banbury treasure, the only red box left in the town.

“The local phone box ‘librarian’ has also been in touch with BT to play his part and another local firm has offered to build the shelving. When the adoption is sealed, with £1 from the council, we will be able to have it up and running within a week. Library life will return to normal and hopefully will go from strength to strength – and there will be fewer book puns around.”

Final arrangements are expected to be made later this week.