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25 years of local newspaper history preserved into county archive after liquidation

Newspapers dating back 25 years have been preserved and made available to view at The Kent Archives.

In June 2022, Maxwell Davies was called in to handle the liquidation of The Downs Mail – a family-run local newspaper for Maidstone and Malling (Kent) which had succumbed to the financial pressures of the pandemic.  Unable to keep operating, father and daughter Dennis Fowle and Claire Procter made the heart-breaking decision to close the company they had started together in 1997. 

Once complete, we looked to their assets – in particular, the vast archive of newspapers stored at their newsroom in the village of Bearsted. They were kept on-site and digitally too – we knew their historical value had to be protected.

Maxwell Davies Director Ruth Duncan, said: “These newspapers are of huge value in terms of local history. They contain records of the area’s events which might not have been recorded anywhere else.
“It’s part of an insolvency practitioner’s duty to look at historical assets and preserve what a company has – and we were keen to ensure their archive was looked after.
“We contacted The Kent Archives, who in just a few days, arranged to come and collect them to add to the local history collection held at their archive centre in Maidstone.
“The process was very easy with them and it’s of great relief to see such a huge body of not only someone’s career, but local history, to be saved and made available for historians or family researchers in the future.”

The Downs Mail story
Up until March 2020 when the pandemic struck, the title was doing well.
Readership was good – at its height, 88,000 copies were distributed each month across five local titles. They also published a quarterly, glossy, leisure and tourism magazine, Mid Kent Living.
Advertising was buoyant, with businesses booking time and time again having seen good results to engaged audiences.

As the first lockdown was announced; advertising revenue nose-dived by 80% in the first few days before hitting zero for the following three months.
A restructuring plan was implemented; office space was reduced, staff pared down and editions reduced to two editions per month from their usual five.
They took a Bounce Back Loan to aid cashflow before advertising stabilised and grew over the 12 months from July 2020. But with leisure and tourism still badly affected, Mid Kent Living wasn’t produced.
In August 2021 just as things looked like they were recovering, advertising income once again took a sudden plummet – advertisers were pulling spends off the back of talk of more winter Covid restrictions.
By February 2022, print costs had risen four times in 12 months, leaving them 30% higher. Energy costs had sky-rocketed, alongside invoices from other suppliers too.
Poor cashflow caused by non paying debtors compounded the finances and there wasn’t an option to increase the cover price – it had always been free; advertisers couldn’t take any price increases either.

The Downs Mail newspapers can be viewed at:
Kent Archives
James Whatman Way, Maidstone ME14 1LQ

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