Published: 06:00, 07 September 2021
It was 20 years ago today the Medway Messenger first hit the streets. News editor Nikki White has tracked down the subject of our very first front page, senior reporter Sam Lennon remembers those very early days and founding editor Bob Dimond looks back at the challenge handed to him.
The "miracle baby" on our first front page is now all grown up and teaching children with special needs.
When the Messenger launched, it was all about new beginnings and our lead story featured Hope Allman who was starting her first full day at Miers Court Primary School in Silverspot Close, Rainham.
Hope was a "miracle baby", born after parents Dave and Jane had gone through six IVF attempts in eight years to have a child of their own.
The battle was made all the more painful for Jane who, every day, cared for babies at the Oliver Fisher Special Care Baby Unit, then based at All Saints' Hospital in Chatham.
In 1995, after the KM Group publicised her appeal for egg donors, Jane fell pregnant on her final attempt, and Hope Elizabeth was born on January 3, 1996 weighing five-and-a-half pounds.
Speaking at the time, Jane, then of Milton Road, Gillingham, said: "We called her Hope because she is so precious. It best summed up the years we have been trying."
The couple vowed there and then Hope would be an only child. Jane said: "Knowing there are so few donors, we would rather the eggs go to another couple so they can feel how we do now."
We checked in with the family from time to time, and Hope's first day at school was one of those milestones. By now the family had moved to Beverley Close, Rainham.
Due to patient confidentiality, the Allmans will never know who the egg donor was – two women from Kent came forward after our appeal which meant Jane moved two more places up the waiting list at London's Lister Hospital. But they will be forever grateful.
Jane, 64, said: "I wanted to say thank you (personally) but I couldn't do that so my mum sent a card to the hospital saying 'thank you for making me a very happy grandmother' and they passed that on to the lady."
Now 25, Hope is teaching children with special needs.
After leaving Miers Court, she went on to Chatham Grammar School for Girls before heading to Canterbury Christ Church University to study primary education. She has been at Abbey Court School in Strood since finishing her teacher training.
She said: "It's something I've always wanted to do, ever since I can remember.
"Mum was a teaching assistant and I used to go in with her on my Baker Days and I suppose that inspired me."
Teaching pupils with special needs was also inspired by her mum, who gave up her work at the special care unit when repeated Christmas and New Year shifts kept her away from the daughter she'd longed for.
Jane became a TA at Twydall Primary School when Hope was about six.
Hope said: "I fell in love with the creative way of teaching. I only have eight children in my class."
She has no memory of the Messenger taking her photo all those years ago, but has had plenty to remind her thanks to social media timelines and her mum's collection of press cuttings.
Hope said: "I don't remember the photo being taken but ever since my friends at Miers Court have reminded me. Every year, it would come up on their memories.
"Most people I've met I say "if you Google my name and Kent Messenger, you will find me'. It's usually my opening line!"
When Hope went off to uni, her mum – who had by then joined the schools' nursing team, looking after the health of youngsters across the district – and her dad, a mechanic, decided to move to Norwich to be closer to Jane's sister.
But the couple have recently moved back to Kent to be closer to Hope for the next chapter in her life.
Next year, she is due to marry childhood sweetheart Tom Bell – and the prospect of grandchildren in a few years is something neither Jane nor Dave want to miss.
Hope and Tom, also 25, met in reception class at primary school but lost touch when they went to different secondary schools.
However at 17, their paths crossed again and they've been together ever since.
Tom is part of his family's business, Bell Glass, which means he and Hope have strong ties to the area, so Jane and Dave returned to Kent three months ago, and are now living on the Isle of Sheppey.
Hope and Tom, who live in Gillingham, will marry next August, hiring a large country house for the weekend for a big family do, because family is most definitely what it's all about – past, present and future.
Children are on the cards, and Hope has even explored the possibility of one day helping someone who finds themselves in the same situation as her parents.
Hope said: "I think Tom and I are going to try for children naturally, and see how that goes, but I probably would like to go down the route of egg donation.
"It was such an amazing thing someone did – to give that opportunity to my mum and dad. It would be lovely to do the same."
Jane said: "I will always be eternally grateful to that woman. I now have my little family.
"We are very lucky. I couldn't have wished for a better daughter, or son-in-law to be. We are very blessed..."
"This is the start of something big," was a KM slogan pre-publicising the first-ever edition of the Medway Messenger, writes senior reporter Sam Lennon.
And when it hit the streets, on Friday, September 7, 2001, big was the word.
It was an enormous 248-page edition, including supplements for What's On, motors and homes.
It was packed with news and campaigns such as, on the very first day, Have a Heart, to raise funds for heart monitors for Medway Maritime Hospital.
There was, a couple of months later, a Christmas campaign to feed the homeless and donations from readers engulfed the editor's office with tins and packages of food.
The new newspaper replaced the Friday edition of the evening paper Medway Today and that continued being published Mondays to Thursdays.
It combined the Friday edition of the evening paper with the Medway edition of the flagship Kent Messenger weekly.
It was promoted as giving readers a newspaper that would last all weekend but it also became clear that time was running out for the evening newspaper.
David Lewis, the then KM managing director, warned us that these were now in "terminal decline" with the increase of news coming through the internet.
Indeed, the last Medway Today was published in April 2003 and in its place the Medway Messenger became bi-weekly.
Senior editor Bob Dimond led that first editorial team, then based in 395 Chatham High Street.
He got married the day that first edition came out, to Denise Eaton, now editor of the Kent Messenger newspaper at Maidstone.
The community editor was David Jones and the news editors were Nikki White and Nicola Jordan, who both still work for the Medway Messenger, Adrian Wills and Sarah Clarke.
The reporters were split into two groups, either working four 10-hour days a week or five eight-hour days, depending on whether they were on the evening paper or Medway Messenger that week.
Yet when the paper was just five days old it was hurtled into into of the most important stories of the new century – 9/11.
The front page picture of the second edition, on September 14, shows three of the Messenger's advertising staff bowing their heads at Chatham Historic Dockyard for a three-minute silence.
On the right is Phil Curtis – the man who first told our news team of the tragedy.
Just before 2pm on Tuesday, September 11, he rushed into our newsroom and told us: "An aeroplane has hit the World Trade Center in New York."
We turned onto the live coverage on our newsroom TV and saw the North Tower burning.
At first we thought this was some ghastly accident. Then right in front of our eyes a second plane hit the South Tower. This was no accident.
That evening I was despatched to a commuter coach stop at Parkwood, Gillingham, to see if workers had come from evacuations of their offices in central London. In the horror and confusion that day it was reasonable to expect Western cities to go into lockdown, however far away from New York.
There was even a wild local rumour that the Pentagon Shopping Centre in Chatham was under threat – because the Pentagon near Washington had also been struck.
On the way to the coach stop I heard on the car radio Prime Minister Tony Blair's memorable comment that Britain stood "shoulder to shoulder" with America against terrorists.
In the office the newsroom radio was kept turned on.
The most disturbing moment for me was hearing the bloodcurdling screams of New Yorkers running away as both towers tumbled and the rolling dust and debris chased them down the streets.
With both international news from PA (Press Association) and local angles we managed to fill five pages on the subject for the Messenger's second ever edition.
Reporters with me in the new paper's first days included Lynn Cox, now a KentOnline news editor, and Janine Nolan who wrote that first-ever splash.
By the mid-2000s she changed careers to become a policewoman.
Other reporters included Tanya Gupta, Sarah Hills, Daniel McMillan, Toby Smith, Liza Murley Keely Spencer-King and Sharon Smith.
Those on the sports desk included sports editor Mike Rees, chief soccer writer Tony Hudd, and writers Phil Stevens, Jason Kayley, Mark Pennell, Steve Jackson and Jo Hernon.
BBC sports correspondent Kevin Gearey was our back pages columnist.
Naturally, technology to put out a newspaper in 2001 was very different to today. The computers looked like compacted old-style television sets.
Above all there were no smartphones, which now gives both reporters and every member of he public a camera.
So with few submitted pictures we had a large, dedicated teams of full-time photographers .
They included Barry Crayford, Jim Rantell, Matthew Walker, Jane Byrne and Grant Falvey, who produced the most eye-catching work.
But we also needed them to even take the simplest scene-setter pictures, such as of streets and buildings, as there was no Google Maps system.
And our snappers still used rolls of film and processed them in darkrooms.
Former editor Bob Dimond is a man who enjoys a challenge.
So when he was asked to launch the Messenger 20 years ago, he grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
He was given just a couple of months to prepare the new weekly which heralded a big change in the county's rich newspaper history.
Details of the launch were kept largely under wraps to avoid the opposition Kent Regional Newspapers getting wind of what of what was going on behind the scenes at KM Larkfield HQ and the cramped Medway Today offices near Luton Arches.
MM, as it soon became known was introduced on the back of the successful Kent Messenger based in Maidstone and the Kentish Gazette covering the Canterbury area.
Bob said: "It complemented what the group was already successfully doing and it was felt there was a need for a similar community paper in Medway.
"Medway Today covered breaking news and some regional news, the Medway Messenger reached out to all aspects of the community.
"It is at the heart of the community respecting and finding out what local people are interested in.
"It was going back to grass roots journalism."
It involved reporters getting out of the newsroom to find out first-hand what was going on in the outside world.
A Day in the Life of Medway Maritime Hospital saw the team dispatched to the wards to work alongside staff, providing an interesting insight into the workings of a busy A&E hospital.
A special edition was published as reporters wrote up their experiences of doing a shift from the paediatric department to the canteen.
"It is at the heart of the community respecting and finding out what local people are interested in..."
In a promotion to help the needy across the Medway Towns, reporters were sent out to one of Medway's most deprived housing estates to distribute food parcels.
The paper also embraced the already well-established Pride in Medway Awards which recognised the efforts and commitment of its readers.
Bob added: "There was certain amount of nerves at first, but it was a massive team effort from the trainee reporters, marketing staff to managing directors.
"There was a sense of we're all in this together. But it was received well right from the off. There were those who initially bought it because of 'what's this'? But sales continued to do well."
He added there were lots of ideas flying around with campaigns being at the forefront of its ethos.
He said "50% were brilliant, 40% OK and 10% not so good."
Bob continued at the helm for five years as the paper went from strength-to-strength.
He then decided it was time to take on another challenge at Medway Council.
Now currently head of sport, leisure and tourism, he was appointed to spearhead Medway's involvement in the London 2012 Olympics which centred round the newly-revamped Medway Park.