A landmark project will make historic Kent newspapers dating back more than 150 years available online, The KM Group can reveal.
The digital archive - made possible by a Heritage Lottery Fund - is set to open a hidden jewel of Kentish history.
Led by the HR Pratt Boorman Family Foundation, the project has secured a grant of £49,700 to digitise KM newspapers from 1859-1919.
The 26,000 pages will be free to view on a fully searchable website.
It will be available as a unique learning resource for Kent schools offering a fascinating record of the extraordinary years which shaped the county we live in.
The pages span the Victorian era of innovation through to the monumentous turmoil of the First World War.
Librarians and archivists, university professors, historians and school children have been involved in viewing and testing the pilot project pages, which helped secure the lottery funding.
The project is actively supported by English Heritage, National Trust, Chatham Historic Dockyard, the British Library, the Imperial War Museum, Kent County Council, the University of Kent and Christ Church University.
The KM Group’s digital archive project manager, Lesley Bellew, said: "It has taken two years to secure the grant.
"We are delighted because instead of the fragile papers being hidden in a basement, the digital archive will give users worldwide a unique view of Kent history."
The project is a landmark for regional newspapers.
KM Group editorial director Ian Carter said: "This a revolutionary step in the KM Group's 150-year history.
"We are the first regional newspaper to undertake such a venture on behalf of our community.
"We are looking for volunteers across Kent to become involved in the project.
"They do not have to be experts but they should have a passion for their Kent heritage.
"Cataloguing and preparing pages before they are digitalised will be time-consuming but hugely rewarding.
"We will ask volunteers to come in to the KM Group offices for training prior to undertaking any work on the newspapers.
"We hope the volunteers will also become involved in roadshows and exhibitions linked around the digital archive."
A teaching pack to accompany the digital archive will also be provided for Kent schools.
Pupils at Godinton Primary School, near Ashford, have tested the digital pages as part of their history lessons.
Head teacher Jim Holditch said the children had found the archive a "brilliant learning tool".
He said: "It is bringing history to life. The local history aspect is so important and relevant to the children.
"There would not be a more powerful resource to teach history in Kent schools."
Stuart McLeod, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund South East England, said: "This project provides an unrivalled source of information for the people of Kent, whether residents, students or historians, for a period spanning the mid 19th century until after the First World War.
"It will underline the importance of local and regional newspapers as an indispensible work of public record."
The grant to digitise historic pages is particularly fitting at a time when the KM Group is commemorating the 70th anniversary of Kent’s role in the Second World War - when HR Pratt Boorman served as a KM reporter.
His granddaughter Libby Lawson, of the HR Pratt Boorman Foundation, is thrilled to be able to unlock the early news pages and see the family tradition of journalism taken into a new era.
She said: "This is an exciting opportunity to make such a rich source of history available to everyone in the county - both now and for future generations.
"It will also be a fantastic tribute to everyone who worked on these publications during the period to capture the diverse day- to-day life of the people of Kent."
If you would like to be involved in the digital archive project please email Lesley Bellew at email@example.com or call 01622 794673.
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