Once a feature of every high street and serving as a village hub, the traditional red phone boxes are loved up and down the country – in 2015 they were even voted as being the ‘best of British design’.
But from the 10,000 still standing, maybe half are operational, and hundreds are crying out for a paint job.
Not so for the phone box in Toller Porcorum, which incidentally exists because the determined WI fought a spirited campaign with BT in 2013 to keep their lifeline. No, this phone box has just had a revamp.
When I called Andy Sewter, he was ‘fighting the weather.’ Heavy rain had set in, and he was on his way to a far-flung village in North Wales to give the cherished but paint-worn phone box a lick of fresh, red gloss.
His signal was patchy, so I waited until he had parked his van somewhere with reasonable signal to talk to this man, who spends his summers travelling the length and breadth of the country, painting phone boxes and living from the van he has made his home.
“I was an intensive care nurse for 20 years and used to have a house, which I sold and bought a van,” said Andy, who has painted just shy of 500 phone boxes across the country over three summers – clocking up three each day working from 7am until 8pm, seven days a week.
“It wasn’t until I left nursing, I realised I had spent so many years cooped up inside the hospital. I’m a nature boy at heart and since I left the hospital, all my work has been outdoors.
“The phone boxes are a focal feature, a navigation point and we are losing the generation who grew up with them, when these boxes were a lifeline and a hub of the village. BT are decommissioning them, replacing or upgrading them, and I offer the painting service. And I love it. I meet many different people and of course, it gives me a sense of freedom.
“I love that moment when you first wake and open your eyes, and fleetingly not know where you are for a moment or two. I love travelling and seeing different things, I can be on a clifftop, a lakeside or an industrial estate depending on where I am in the country.
“After I have finished here in North Wales, I will drive to Manchester and Lancashire, Cumbria, Scotland and the Hebrides before driving south.
“I am a loner and live a solitary life, although I am amenable, but I like the freedom my job gives, just listening to the wildlife around me and the health benefits I derive from it.”
Andy gave up meat several years ago when he became a committed vegan and cooks quinoa once a week from his stove in the van, adding sun-dried tomatoes and all manner of fresh seasonal goodies to add to his healthy plate.
Andy said: “Did you know you could live on Quinoa alone? It is the only food available in the world that you can sustain life from as it contains all trace elements. Cooking it is simple and it is so healthy.
“Coupled with staying active for many hours of the day means during the summers I get really healthy while doing something fulfilling, which makes a good deal of people very happy.”
Sue Wreford, who lives in Toller Porcorum was one of those people.
“Andy is a fascinating man,” she said. “And he is doing an incredible job.”