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People Are Donating Books To A Red Phone Box Library After It Was Closed By Mistake

“People are very good," said community librarian Val Empson. "We’ve been amazed by the number of donations."

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People are donating books to a community library run from a red telephone box after it was closed due to a misunderstanding about planning permission.

Val Empson at the library.
Cambridge News / SWNS

Val Empson at the library.

Val Empson, 71, shut down the library - operated from her family’s garage in Elsworth, just outside of Cambridge, for the last four years - after being told she needed planning permission for a change of use, which would cost £400.

But the warning, first reported by Cambridge News and passed on by the parish council from the Society of Local Council Clerks, was "entirely inaccurate", South Cambridgeshire District Council told BuzzFeed News.

"Sadly the council was only contacted about this query after Mrs Empson had closed the phone box library. We have been to see her today to reassure her and confirmed that planning permission is not needed," a spokesperson said.

"We hope Mrs Empson and the local community can get this fantastic facility back up and running quickly."

However, this clarification came too late for Empson, who originally bought the disused phone box for her husband Bob, 72.


When she closed the library, Empson removed around 800 books from the phone box and put them in black bags, but the books, all of which had been donated, were damaged during the recent wet weather.

She told BuzzFeed News she was "really pleased" the issue of whether planning permission was required had been cleared up, and people had already begun donating books to replace those that were damaged.

"People are very good. We've been amazed by the number of donations. The variety of books donated have been amazing after word spread," Empson said.

She asked that anyone who lived nearby and wanted to donate books should pass them on in person, but to anyone else who lived outside the village to save their money as postage was so expensive these days.

Matthew Champion is a deputy world news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Matthew Champion at

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