A regional press company is to digitise newspapers dating back more than 150 years after being awarded a £49,700 heritage lottery grant.
The KM Group is to make 26,000 pages of newspapers published between 1859 and 1919 available on a free-to-view website.
The digital archive project will preserve historic newspapers and open what the family-owned group calls “a hidden jewel of Kentish history.”
Those backing the initiative include English Heritage, the National Trust, the British Library and the Imperial War Museum.
Group managing editor Lesley Bellew, who has led the project, said: “It has taken two years to secure the grant. Instead of the fragile papers being hidden in a basement, the digital archive will give users worldwide a unique view of Kent history.”
Editorial director Ian Carter added: “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.”
The group is now looking for volunteers across the county to become involved in the project.
Said Ian: “Cataloguing and preparing pages before they are digitalised will be time-consuming but hugely rewarding. 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 in Ashford have tested the digital pages as part of their history lessons and headteacher Jim Holditch said they had found it a “brilliant learning tool.”
The project is being launched as the KM Group commemorates the 70th anniversary of Kent’s role in the Second World War, when founding family member HR Pratt Boorman served as a KM reporter.
His granddaughter Libby Lawson 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.”
Stuart McLeod, head of Heritage Lottery Fund South East England, said: “This project provides an unrivalled source of information for the people of Kent, 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 indispensable work of public record.”