Medieval to modern: 800-year-old church set for £950k transformation

Rev Chris Hill with members of St Mary’s Church in Ely as plans for a 21st century £900,000 transfor

Rev Chris Hill with members of St Mary’s Church in Ely as plans for a 21st century £900,000 transformation was unveiled. Picture: Supplied - Credit: Supplied

A £950,000 transformation of Ely’s 800-year-old St Mary’s Parish Church begins next month - after nearly six years of fundraising “to make the medieval building fit for the 21st century”. 

The project has attracted support from local and national charities but the biggest contribution, totalling £371,000, has come from church members.  

The improvements include replacing the pews with new seats, levelling the floor, installing ‘green’ heating, lighting and electrics.

Building work on the first phase could take up to eight months and during that time Sunday services will be held at the Morbey Hall of King’s Junior School in Barton Road, Ely. 

Since the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, numbers attending services have grown steadily, including many young families who have recently moved to Ely. 

“The building transformation project has been a magnificent team effort which has inspired and excited us all,” said the Rector, the Rev Chris Hill. 

"We will be creating an accessible, flexible and functional space, open not just for Sunday services but seven days a week so this beautiful space can be shared with the whole of Ely.” 

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There will be no changes to the exterior of the Grade 1 Listed building which dates back over 800 years. 

Over time there have been many interior alterations. In 1876, the Victorians embarked on a major refurnishing, installing fixed wooden pews and tiled floor in keeping with the fashion of the time. 

“No doubt unintentionally, the fixed furniture locked down this glorious space for a ‘Sunday use only’ pattern,” said Chris.  

"We will be able to meet the growing demand for life skills courses - parenting, marriage, relationships, workplace, bereavement, finance and debt management and mental health counselling,” said Chris.  

“St Mary’s has wonderful acoustics and will be a light and airy space for music and the performing arts. 

“We hope to host events and conferences and become a learning and training resource hub for the villages and market towns in the Ely diocese.  

“St Mary’s will become an accessible space where everyone will feel welcome.” 

The fundraising team, led by church warden Derek Tye, is still working on grant applications to enable the second phase of the project to go ahead.  

This will include an internal reorganisation of the west end of the church to provide a mezzanine floor and extra meeting spaces.  

For more information about the project, visit