High Street Church in Isleham was formed in 1812, with the main building being constructed in the ensuing years. Little is known regarding numbers of attendees in the early days of the church, the first record being an ecclesiastical census taken in 1851, which stated that the regular attendance to Sunday services was 300, which was about 15% of the village population at that time. A note in the church records indicated that there were up to 150 children attending Sunday school in 1845. With respect to the main building, it was recorded that this was renovated and extended in 1841, to provide more seating. Further extension and renovation work was carried out which was completed in 1886, increasing the seating capacity of the church
The church continued to operate in this way with fluctuating membership numbers until the mid-nineteen eighties. At this time a number of additional activities had been introduced which resulted in the need for further development. A portacabin was erected in the early 1990’s as a temporary measure to accommodate these further activities. A further permanent extension was added to the main building a few years later. This extension has resulted in no further expansion being possible on the site, with the consequence in recent years, of the need to hold activities at locations remote from the church, including in people’s homes and the village hall. The situation has resulted in fairly major logistics problems in the context of storage of materials, transporting equipment between venues, and the need for different groups within the church to share usable space. Chairs in the main hall are regularly re-organised to suit the varying activities.
The church has continued to flourish in terms of attracting church members and non-members to attend these activities. Apart from Sunday services, these include weekly meetings for the various age groups. Of particular significance in this respect, is the involvement of people of all ages, including many villagers, in the activities which take place. Some fifty plus elderly people from the village and surrounding area meet on a Tuesday afternoon each week. In addition, a meal is provided once a month on a Wednesday for around forty elderly people in the village. Youth group meetings involving youngsters of most ages between 10 and 20+ are held in a number of venues to cater for these various age groups, and numbers attending these have been increasing. On a Friday morning once a month, there is a meeting for young mums and babies, involving church and non-church members. Other activities involving all age groups also take place during the week. A major drawback in all this was the lack of parking available for those attending the church and its activities.
During the period of growth in the 90’s a new leadership team was appointed, the new leader having a vision to provide a new church capable of accommodating 600 people at services. The emergence of the East Cambridgeshire District Council Local Plan in the mid- nineties appeared timely from the point of view of pursuing the possibility of providing a new church.
Representations were made by the Church in relation this emerging Local Plan to include a policy within the plan which would facilitate re-location of the church to a site within or adjoining the built edge of the village. In addition to this, villagers had expressed concerns regarding problems created by cars parking in the vicinity of High Street Church, located in the centre of the village. On Sundays, around eighty to ninety cars were parked on the streets around the church, causing disruption to vehicle movements in the area.
The ECDC Deposit Draft Local Plan produced in September 1997 included within it policy 166, which opened the way to the church being permitted to relocate to a site adjacent to the edge of the village. The draft policy was supported by the church and there were no objections. The Approved Local Plan published in 2000 contained policy 179 unaltered from the original draft policy. In the ensuing years, a site was sought for the new church centre but without resolution. Of importance in identifying a suitable location and an appropriate size of plot to accommodate the new buildings and associated services including car parking, was the need to establish the area of land required to house the various church activities. Our previous church at two hundred plus years old served the community well so it was felt that any new church should be considered in the context of serving the Church and its activities for at least the next two hundred years. In searching for a suitable site to locate the new church therefore, a number of sites within and on the edge of the village were considered. Centrally, there were no sites with reasonable access which also provided sufficient off-street parking facilities. In 2005 a piece of land was offered to the church in a location which had sufficient space to accommodate the floor area requirements to meet the aspirations of the church and which met the District Council policy relating to relocation within or adjacent to the built edge of the village. It also had the advantage of good access for vehicles and for other modes of travel, including walking, subject to footway improvements.
In searching for a suitable site to locate the new church therefore, a number of sites within and on the edge of the village were considered. Centrally, there were no sites with reasonable access which also provided sufficient off-street parking facilities. In 2005 a piece of land was offered to the church in a location which had sufficient space to accommodate the floor area requirements to meet the aspirations of the church and which met the District Council policy relating to relocation within or adjacent to the built edge of the village. It also had the advantage of good access for vehicles and for other modes of travel, including walking, subject to footway improvements
As regards a suitable site, a major consideration was the space requirements to meet the aspirations of the church. Apart from the logistics problems described above, one of the prime concerns with the previous arrangements and the space available was the lack of opportunity to bring the whole congregation together under one roof. The present membership is around 230 with a further 170 or so adherents and children. This number has been relatively steady or slightly higher in recent years but represented a marked increase from the numbers involved in the church some forty years ago. As stated above, the vision was to provide a main building capable of accommodating 600 people at services. In view of this, it was considered that it would be short-sighted not to allow for future expansion so it was decided to provide a new building with a main hall capable of accommodating 600 people. Accordingly, agreement was reached with the landowners on the appropriate size of the parcel of land required for the New Church. Transfer of the land into the ownership of the church was finalised in 2010.
Planning permission was obtained in October 2008 for the construction of the New Church, the form of construction being green oak, with various cladding finishes including brick, timber, and exposed oak and render coat. Acquisition of timber commenced in November 2009 and the major portion of the timber was sourced at that time. The timber was obtained partly by purchase at auction and partly by felling by members of the build team. In order to prepare the timber for the New Church, a bespoke sawmill was constructed during 2009, with completion in the early part of 2010. Cutting of timber for doors and window frames commenced in May 2010 and the wood stored for drying. Frame preparation and assembly commenced in July that year with the first frames made ready in early August. The frames were then disassembled and stored ready for assembly on site.
In terms of construction of the framework of the church, this progressed in two stages with the first stage comprising the Junior Church, Refectory and Toilet Block. This first stage framework, including roof works, was completed in April 2012. Work then proceeded on preparation of the timber framework for the office block; this was followed by a period back on site to complete foundation work for the second stage of the project. Framing erection, including all roof work, for the office block area was completed in March 2013. Preparation of the remaining timber sections was carried out and the erection of the reception / library area was completed in October 2013 and the auditorium in February 2015 respectively.
Around 130 larch trees for use as feather edge boarding, batten work, floor joists, and stud walls were felled and milled during the early part of 2015. Preparation and assembly of window and door frames also proceeded during this period being completed in June 2015. Oak and larch feather edge cladding was carried out and window and door frames installed by early October 2015. Fabrication and installation of doors, including all glazing, to enclose the building completed in May 2016. Construction of the south car park bays completed; also footways on south side of building. Construction of the south car park bays completed; also footways around building all but complete. Seven internal staircases built together with balustrade work. Septic tanks installed and connections made. Underfloor heating pipework completed and boiler installation including relevant ancillary works all but complete. Internal works have been progressing and the auditorium, vestry, and Junior Church rooms completed in November 2019. Occupation of the building took place on 17th November 2019 with the new name ‘The Ark Church’. Outstanding building work progressing with a view to occupying rooms as they become available.