Is this the start of something big?

New student Chris Woodfield talks about his first week at CAT.

With the first week and the start of the MSc Sustainability and Adaptation now out of the way, the realisation of what is to come is finally settling in; this is an exciting time to be a student.

For me, the journey to CAT’s beautiful West Wales location was a relaxing short train ride away from my home on the coast in Aberystwyth. I’d been to CAT many times before but the feeling this time was different, a sense of anticipation, excitement or nervousness – or maybe a combination of all three. I’d be looking forward to the start of the course for a little over a month when I’d found out I had been successful in achieving the bursary award to pay for the course fees, for which I am extremely grateful and would like to take this opportunity to thank the DSCF4224Amar-Franses and Foster-Jenkins Trust for their kindness.

The week started by meeting a few people on the course over a lovely vegan meal, followed by an introduction to the history of CAT. This year CAT have decided to combine the teaching weeks for the two MSc courses and the Professional Diploma in Architecture so all the students are on-site together. Although quite hectic to start with, I enjoyed this aspect of the week and it was useful and interesting to meet people studying on the different courses. The unique immersive teaching set-up of living, sleeping, studying and eating at CAT for a week was something I was certainly looking forward to – and I wasn’t disappointed.

As the teaching started and progressed through the week it was clear this was going to be a whistle-stop tour of an introduction to adaptation and sustainability. The content of the lectures was broad but gave us an ideal overview of the challenges we face as a society and the feeling of what we can do to overcome these in a positive way.

The content ranged from the physical or environmental aspects of sustainability through to the social and economic aspects, with lectures covering topics such as ecosystems, climate change, energy, carbon footprints, buildings, sustainable cities, land-use, transformational economics and transport.

In the middle of the week, Paul Allen, Zero Carbon Britain Project Co-ordinator, gave an evening lecture on CAT’s approach to climate change and Zero Carbon Britain – CAT’s flagship project, whilst also outlining the new research project, Making it Happen. This seemed to be one of the highlights of the week, illustrated by the engaging discussion that followed. For me, it was particularly interesting as Paul outlined the emerging importance of the arts and culture in climate change and how these can positively shape people’s behaviours, rather than relying on the science and hard facts. This is something I had been thinking about for a while and it was great to know this is a key area of importance and would be something we would be exploring in more detail as the course progresses. On that note, preceding the talk we were treated to a beautiful relaxing musical performance by one of the Professional Diploma in Architecture students performing on a type of drum called The Hang.

With a busy, fully-packed timetable of lectures and seminars, it became clear the mornings were going to be a useful quiet time for space, exploring and reflection. It wasn’t difficult for me to wake up early, especially with a snoring room-mate! I tried to fill the mornings with runs, walks and exploration of the CAT site and further afield taking in some beautiful views. This was a perfect way to start the day – to sit outside and realise how important these inspiring green spaces are for our own health and wellbeing as well as for the planet as a whole.

As the week drew to a close, one of my favourite lectures was delivered by Ruth Stevenson on Climate Change Discourse and Analysis. We explored how climate change is ‘framed’ or portrayed by the different people, groups and the media. Furthermore, this introduced us to ideas about how we view nature, either individually or as society, looking at ‘values’ and anthropocentric (human focused) and ecocentric values. Again, this was especially interesting and something relatively new to me to study in an academic sense, so it put the foundations in place to explore this further in subsequent modules.

There was much talk about the CAT Friday night social and our first one of the year was organised by our lovely course coordinator Tim Coleridge – the music and dancing continued well into the early hours, even after the band had finished, with our own impromptu DJ set.

The week finished with a summary discussion session outside, enjoying the beautiful Saturday morning sun. This was a lovely and refreshing way to finish the week with some creative discussion and points to consider as we all went our separate ways for another couple of weeks. Looking back on the week, it has been a great introduction and has made me realise that there are a lot of similar-minded people out there dedicated to trying to make real positive change a reality. I guess the big challenge is, can we all learn and work together and share our experiences to deliver this change in a creative and inspiring way.