Regional publisher KM Group is to create a digital archive of its newspapers dating back more than 150 years with the aid of a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The grant of £49,700 will help digitise KM newspapers published from 1859-1919. More recent issues of papers are also expected to eventually be included in the archive.
The 26,000 pages of Kentish history will be free to view on a searchable website.
Lesley Bellew, the KM Group’s managing editor, who has led the digital archive 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.”
KM Group said providing archivists, academics, historians and school children with access to digitised pages in its pilot project pages helped secure funding.
The group will now make a teaching pack available to schools wanting to use its archive. It is also seeking volunteers to help with the archiving.
Ian Carter, KM Group editorial director, said: “This is 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 the county 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 hope the volunteers will also become involved in road shows and exhibitions linked around the digital archive.”
The grant to digitise historic pages comes as the KM Group is commemorating the 70th anniversary of Kent’s role in the Second World War, when HR Pratt Boorman – who eventually founded the group – served as a reporter on the Kent Messenger.
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.”