TV star calling for support over bid to create ‘art box’
By Trevor Brookes - Editor
TV personality David Harper hopes to rally support behind an idea that could turn a distinctive red phone box into an art attraction in Barnard Castle.
Mr Harper’s scheme would see the little used phone box on The Bank completely painted two or three times a year by different artists in their own style. He says he would like to cover it with one of his vivid paintings and would love to see others try too – for example wildlife artists or landscape painters.
Inside would be tourist information leaflets and information.
The proposal follows in the footsteps of one created in Windsor, London, by former children’s TV personality Timmy Mallet. That “art box” has become a major tourist attraction and Mr Harper hopes one in Barnard Castle would also provide a boost for tourism.
Mr Harper, a star of numerous TV antiques programmes, has asked Barnard Castle Town Council to take over the phone box under the adopt-a-phone-box-for-£1 scheme run by BT.
Individuals are not allowed to adopt phone boxes but he hopes town councillors will support his idea.
Although the phone box was recently given a much-needed paint job, Mr Harper believes it could offer much more.
Mr Harper, who owns property nearby, said: “I have been looking at the box for years and it has been in a dreadful state. But it’s beautiful and has this lovely crown on the top.
“Artists would be able to pitch ideas and the phone box could be this fantastic artwork that would attract tourists. When you open the door, you would have all this information about the town and area.
“There are a lot of artists in Teesdale but as an artist it’s difficult to promote your work. It could look really funky and different. I would love to paint it with one my designs – after six months it could be someone else’s turn.”
Failing that, Mr Harper says he would be happy for the box to be fully restored and become a book exchange, where people leave their books and swap others.
The idea was initially discussed by Barnard Castle Town Council last week.
Town clerk Michael King told councillors that it took BT months to give it a fresh coat of paint after a request was made last year and it does not often get cleaned.
However, Mr King said it was already something of a local attraction and appears in photos and paintings of The Bank.
Cllr Sandra Moorhouse asked how much the phone was used, saying that with other boxes being removed by BT it may end up being the last one in town.
Cllr Laura Drew added: “To be fair, that area of Barnard Castle has a shocking signal. If it’s still being used, then we need to maintain it properly.”
But councillors heard that the adopt-a-phone box scheme meant the phone line is removed. Councillors agreed to ask BT how much the phone gets used.
However, Mr Harper is already sure of the answer.
“I can categorically say that it’s never used,” he said.