Self Build Project Management

In 2016, the UK government passed legislation to establish the Right to Build your own home. The new laws mean that councils in England have a duty to give planning permission to a sufficient number of serviced plots for self-build and custom housebuilding. They also have to publish a  register of interested self builders. In Wales, there is a consultation being undertaken at the moment to establish the same rights.

Continue reading “Self Build Project Management”

Build a tiny house…

tiny house1We are so excited about our tiny house courses – new from us to you!

Running three times this year, spaces are filling up fast.

Learn how to make a beautiful and bespoke tiny house from the ground up: including the timber frame structure, interior and renewable systems.

Carwyn Lloyd Jones, our very own master craftsman (and TV star!) will guide you through an inspiring and practical week where you’ll learn how to:

• Build a timber frame tiny house (approx. 6ft x 10ft)
• Clad the walls
• Build different roof shapes (including pitched roofs, curved roofs and green   roofs
• Install windows and doors
• Fix the structure to a trailer base
• Create simple, functional and smart fitted furniture
• Integrate Solar PV and thermal for electricity and hot water
• Harvest rainwater
• Include a compost toilet

Jam packed with practical hands-on exercises and talks from experts, this course will give you the skills and enthusiasm to build a tiny house of your own – whether it’s a little off-grid home, outdoor workspace or a glamping pod for summer getaways.

8096918469_1098dc91a6_mCarwyn will also give you a tour of his very own tiny house caravan as seen on George Clark’s Amazing Spaces.

Book here, before it’s completely sold out!

Need more inspiration? Read this blog, written by a CAT graduate who is building a tiny home on wheels in Australia.

Power in the Land

alana_quilt-detail-230x170We are excited to hear that the North Wales arts collective X-10 are opening their new show Power in the Land this weekend.
The dynamic, diverse and multi-talented group of ten artists were inspired by the closure and decommisioning of the last nuclear power station in Wales – Wylfa in Anglesey – at the end of 2015.

The resulting work – two years in the making – is an engaging medley of work in video, sound, performance, installation and in graphic and photographic forms.

The impact made by the arrival of Wylfa in the 1960’s on the language and culture of this corner of Wales is explored, together with the legacy of a major power institution on the landscape.

The 10 artists have been chosen for their exhibiting experience, their creativity and their willingness to explore beyond the obvious, to eNo-entry1-230x170xperiment and to engage in creative dialogue with each other.

They have been working together on the site and responding to the physical, material and energetic presence of the power station, as well as its geographical landscape, and the interactions with the local community.

Join Alana Tyson, Ant Dickinson, Jessica Lloyd-Jones, Robin Tarbet and Teresa Paiva in conversation and lively debate on Saturday 6th Feb, at 5pm in the Oriel Davies Gallery, Newtown.
No booking necessary.
Refreshments available for a small donation

The group are taking their touring exhibition across Wales before traveling to England and Europe.


Oriel Davies
6th Feb to 6th April, 2016

Main exhibition of artworks and artists talks.
Anglesey Arts Weeks
19th March to 3rd April, 2016

Artist’s group working process Open Studio.
Aberystwyth Arts Centre
14th May to 18th July, 2016

Main exhibition of artworks.

Holly Owen – artist in residence

Artists close up-1

Holly Owen, environmental artist, came to live at the Centre for Alternative Technology seven months ago as our artist in residence. Holly’s time here has been inspiring, not just for her artistic practise, but for all the staff that have been a part of her continuing journey into low impact art.

“Playing with materials bound to the earth lifts us out of the commonplace and into a world re-imagined. Art has the ability to re-enchant our consciousness with the world when the facts and figures of climate change leave us numb.”

Holly Owen, 2016


Holly’s art and climate change journey started eight years ago, when she began to explore natural, low impact materials and processes in her artistic practice.

Experimenting with golden-yellow Dartmoor beeswax, Holly began to unravel the ecological mysteries surrounding the decline of the honeybee during her residency at Buckfast Abbey. This was the first step in an ongoing journey, exploring local and global environmental issues that affect humanity in both subtle and devastating ways.

“In the first week of my residency at the Centre for Alternative Technology, I realised how surface level my knowledge was about global climate change. This was going to be a sharp learning curve from the ground up.
Thankfully my residency was connected with CAT’s education department, so alongside many groups of school kids I spent my first few months eagerly absorbing the wealth of knowledge that this enthusiastic team have to share,” said Holly.

Holly joined CAT in the summer of 2015, in months before COP21 in Paris. It was then that she realised the significance of the timing of her residency.

“Two years prior to my CAT journey I began working with digital artist Kristina Pulejkova on a multi-media project entitled Switching Heads-sound mapping the Arctic.
The project took us to a community deep within the Arctic Circle where we worked alongside local people to collect the sights, sounds and stories from one of the most endangered environments on earth.
We were invited to take the resulting film to the art and culture festival ArtCOP21 that ran in conjunction with COP21 in Paris.
As our anticipation of this important global event grew, so did the atmosphere at CAT. Embracing the opportunity to delve into the political world that CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain programme resides in, and encouraged by the active work of groups such as Reclaim the Power, Kristina and I hurtled towards COP21 fully fuelled with knowledge and a sense of people power.
I feel proud and humbled to have had the opportunity to play an active role in the events surrounding COP21, made even more poignant by the timing of my connection to CAT.”

Switching Heads (Llwyngwern slate)
Switching Heads (Llwyngwern slate)

Inspired by this life changing foray into international climate talks and activism, Holly’s piece Switching Heads (Llwyngwern slate) looks out through the withered leaves of the sparse winter beds of CAT’s central polytunnel. A life-sized head, formed from slither-thin shards of CAT quarry slate, blends organically into its surroundings.

In April, Holly will be making a welcome return to CAT, with fellow artist Kristina to record a second film for their on-going series Switching Heads – sound mapping the […] – exploring climate change through the voices of people who live and work in places of environmental significance.
Their current films – and the adventures they had making them – can be seen here.

Allotment, by Holly Owen, 2015

Holly’s piece Allotment uses the Fibonacci sequence to showcase seeds collected from CAT head gardener Roger McLennan’s historic seed bank. Using a pattern that appears regularly in natural forms – think sunflower seed heads, trees branches, an artichoke flower, an unfurling fern – this piece shows the seeds oscillating out from the center of a disc painted in Llwyngwern slate pigment.
Allotment spans a UK food-growing year challenging food production, food miles and waste and encouraging locally grown, organic, seasonal produce that can give extra enjoyment to the food we eat and share.

My Earth, 2015

explores CAT through the infinite colours, tones and textures under our feet. Thirty two different postcard sized swatches were painted with mud pigments map the site, each accompanied by an individual story of discovery. It is a snapshot of Holly’s seven months at CAT, her journey and the re-enchantment of finding beauty in the mundane and overlooked.
Accompanying this work, stories from CAT’s passionate, skilled and creative community are shared, demonstrating why CAT is so important to them. These stories create a colourful, unique and positive patchwork of individual journeys that collectively form a community like no other.

As this phase of Holly’s work comes to a close, and she is set to embark on another adventure curating art for a festival in the Severn valley, Holly reflects.
“The months that I have spent living and working in this reclaimed Welsh slate quarry amongst the ancient history, the realised dreams and the shared futures has focused my creativity in ways unimagined. As my art and climate change journey continues, it has been enriched with a deeper focus for an alternative way of life, imagined through the arts and made possible by all of us.”

Thank you for helping us here at CAT appreciate what we have under our feet, Holly. We are looking forward to sharing a Welsh Spring with you when you return.

Allotment, Holly Owen, 2015
Allotment, Holly Owen, 2015

The Low Carbon Breakfast

Here at the Centre for Alternative Technology, we run a wholly vegetarian restaurant. Catering for our own MSc. students, staff and people participating on our short courses, no-one goes hungry here.
In an attempt to showcase a low or zero carbon future, we demonstrate dishes and techniques that have a decreased impact on our environment.

Laura Blake, CAT nutritionist, says, “Reducing your red meat consumption is the single most effective and important thing you can do to lower your diet-related greenhouse gas emissions. It has also been shown to lower your risk of certain diseases: including bowel cancer – making it healthier for you too!”

Agriculture contributes to a third of the total carbon emissions, and the increase in conventional methods of farming poses a rising threat to the environment as the world tries to feed an additional two billion people by 2050.

We believe a low carbon economy is more energy efficient, more energy secure, cleaner, quieter and safer.

And more delicious, too.
So, here are five of our restaurants favourite breakfast dishes for you, to celebrate National Breakfast Week.

Porridge (serves two)
Oats are really low in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, so porridge is a low cost and filling way to start the day. Soaking the oats overnight reduces the cooking time.

160 g rolled oats
600 ml milk, organic soya milk or water
Sea salt

Toast the oats until beginning to turn brown; this gives them a nutty flavour.
Place the oats and the milk or water in a large pan over night.
In the morning, gently bring to a simmer, then add a tiny pinch of salt and stir.
Simmer for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring as often as you can to give you a smooth creamy porridge.
If you like your porridge runnier, simply add a splash more milk or water until you’ve got the consistency you like.
Adding fruit helps meet your five-a-day. Locally grown, low carbon options include: apple, pear, blackberries, raspberries, plums – at the right time of year, obviously!

Vegan Mediterranean Shakshuka (serves two hungry people)
In Israel shakshuka is often eaten for breakfast, but this super easy and versatile dish can be cooked or any meal of the day.

½ tbsp olive oil
½ small brown or white onion, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, minced
½ medium green or red bell pepper, chopped
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
½ tsp chilli powder (mild)
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp paprika
Pinch of cayenne pepper (or more to taste– spicy!)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 block firm tofu, pressed and drained
½ tbsp fresh chopped parsley

Gently heat a deep frying pan (a cast iron pan is ideal for this) and add olive oil.
Add chopped onion, sauté for a few minutes until the onion begins to soften.
Add garlic and continue to sauté till mixture is fragrant.
Add the pepper, sauté for 5 minutes until softened.
Add tomatoes and tomato puree to pan, stir till blended.
Add spices, stir well, and allow mixture to simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes until it starts to reduce.

Taste the mixture and season it according to your preferences.
Slice the tofu along the width into four squares and gently place onto tomato mixture.
Cover the pan. Allow mixture to simmer for 10 minutes, or until the sauce has slightly reduced.
Garnish with chopped parsley, if desired.

A bowl of cereal
High fibre breakfast cereals with low sugar and salt content are useful as a quick fix – all cereals are pretty low in carbon and can be grown easily in this country. Sadly, with the average person in the UK still not meeting their five-a-day requirements, this is where a lot of people get a significant amount of their micronutrients from!
As a guide, muesli or a cereal with bran in its title is a good bet, but do check the sugar/salt content on the packet.

Fruit Smoothie
Lots of fruit will grow in the UK, especially if you can give it a bit of protection in a conservatory, greenhouse or against a south facing wall. Here in wet and windy Wales, we were still harvesting raspberries the week before Christmas, and enjoy growing some more unusual fruit – goji berries and honeyberries seem to do well.

One handful of any seasonal fruit – berries, plums, apricots, figs, currants
300ml milk, or milk substitute, or apple juice, or water and yogurt
2 tbs oats

If there’s time, prep the fruit the night before and store it in the fridge.
In the morning, buzz it together with a hand blender or liquidizer.

Beans or egg or scrambled tofu, with wilted spinach on toast
Commercially produced eggs are significantly higher in emissions than the other two.Can you keep a trio of ex-battery hens in your back yard? They take up less room than you think, will gobble up much of your garden waste and vegetable peelings and offer you an egg or two a day in return.
High protein foods should help keep you fuller for longer and stop you snacking!
Tofu has far less of an environmental impact than many would believe – it also has a high water content.
A handful of spinach, fresh from the garden, quickly cooked in a pan and added to either scrambled eggs or tofu adds both nutrition and taste.
Use wholemeal bread to boost the nutritional content, and top with herbs fresh from the garden – chives, parsley and marjoram all have additional health benefits.

Want to know more?
This clever little tool will tell you eggsactly how many miles your egg has traveled:

Find out the environmental effects of your weekly diet: look at Laura’s larder

Food miles calculator

Eco-Refurbishment Course at CAT

The August bank Holiday weekend saw CAT’s annual Eco Refurbishment course, covering all the theory and practicalities of how to get your house towards performing better than many new- build properties. The course consists of classroom theory sessions and hands-on practicals, as well as tours of CAT’s own drainage, sewerage and water-conservation  installations and its renewable energy set-ups.

Tutor Nick Parsons said: “The practicals are an essential part of the course, giving students a chance to apply the knowledge they have gained in the classroom sessions to practical situations. These sessions would not be possible without the support of the companies which provide materials and reference material free of charge

A group of eager DIY-ers have been busy learning about eco-refurbishment at CAT. Over the past few days they’ve learned about ecological improvements you can make to existing buildings through practical exercises and specialised guided tours of CAT.

The developments in environmentally conscious building are coming along in leaps and bounds, but as it currently stands few people in the UK will have the opportunity to construct their own new eco-home. Refurbishing existing housing stock can make a massive contribution towards reducing our carbon footprint and lowering our wider environmental impact.

As the week draws to a close we would like to say a big thank-you to Recovery Insulation, Natural Building Technologies, and Clan Insulation  who provided materials free of charge for the practical sessions on the Eco Refurbishment course. Thanks also to Sally and Keith Hall at Green Building Press who donated copies of the Green Building Bible for the students. Nick Parsons, the course tutor, said: “it’s great to have samples of a wide range of materials – particularly insulation materials – and to be able to work with them. Students have found this particularly valuable, and we really appreciate the generosity of the suppliers”.

You can find out more about our autumn short courses on our website.

Ecobuild – How do you see the Future?

In a week’s time CAT will be heading down to Ecobuild in London. Visit the CAT stand to learn more about our postgraduate programmes and sustainable building techniques.  The largest sustainable building event in the world, it’s always a fascinating show with hundreds of exhibitors, dozens of talks and the occasional solar-powered bike tootling past…

This year, Climate Week is being launched at Ecobuild, running from the 3rd-9th March. Climate Week is Britain’s biggest climate change campaign, encouraging a new wave of action to create a sustainable future. We’ve been inspired by the campaign to think big and consider the future. At Ecobuild you can join in on this with us to help create a giant wall map examining the challenges and opportunities we face. What will the cities of the future look like? What does adaptation mean? If you would like to contribute to this then please join us at stand S38 from the 4th to the 6th of March.

For free tickets visit Ecobuild’s website.

For more information about Climate Week, click here.


1974 Diary: Week One

2014 marks the 40th anniversary of the Centre for Alternative Technology. When the first volunteers arrived on-site they faced a huge challenge – turning an abandoned slate quarry into a renewable-energy-powered sustainable community. From their arrival on 2nd February 1974 through to December 22nd 1974 they kept a diary of their work. We’ll be publishing extracts from the diary on our Facebook Timeline daily throughout 2014. We will be posting weekly updates on the blog each week. You can read all the diary entries here

Front Page 2

2nd February

Weather: South West gale, rain.

Arrived at Machynlleth with Pat Keiller. Found the Centre very much as we had left it. A Douglas Fir had fallen across the top of the road, but all the structures are intact.

The evening at Lady White’s cottage, Pantperthog. Most comfortable.

3rd February

Weather: Warm, sunny and calm.

We installed a window frame into the East cottage, using existing timber, and ran guttering along the back. Pat took some photographs. bAt dusk we travelled to Aberystwyth to give an interview for “Good Morning Wales” (BBC Radio 4).

4th February

Weather: Rain early, then broken cloud with sunny intervals.

We cleared the debris from the upper rooms of the cottage, noting that much of the structure is very damp, due to holes in the roof. Repairs to the roof have begun, hopefully to be completed tomorrow. Most of the existing window frames will be retained, which will speed up the installation of windows, which has not been progressing as rapidly as I had hoped

The old quarrymens’ cottages in 1973.

5th February

Weather: Misty during the morning, then heavy rain.

Pat has repaired the largest leaks in the cottage roof. The upstairs narrow window has been framed. Our work was interrupted during the afternoon by the arrival of the two local press-men. The bathroom has been cleaned up, and it has been decided to run the drainage out of the back, having first excavated along the back of all three cottages. My car was overhauled by Jones the Garage, and seems to run much better.

6th February

Weather: Gale with sleet and rain early, abating as the day progressed.

We have completed the window framing and Pat has been working on the roof all day, in spite of the weather. The GPO telephone man arrived, saying it would be some weeks before the phone would be installed. We met Cliff Collins at the station, who is most impressed with the centre and its possibilities. I attempted to follow up Steve Boulter’s lead re digester tanks, but came to a full stop. Humphrey’s the iron-monger has neither glass nor beading in stock so it looks like a trip to Aberystwyth.

7th February

Weather: Clear, sunny and calm.

Pat spent the morning taking photographs and the afternoon on the roof. Cliff has commenced taking wind readings with his anemometer, a record of which will be kept separately. We now have glass and beading, and hope to start tomorrow. Tony and Viv arrived from London, have dined with us and are spending the weekend in the cells at Corris.* Tomorrow we join them. We have started to cut wood and stack it in the nearest shed. Pat saw what he believes is a peregrine falcon.

[*In the 1970s the old police station at Corris had been converted into a hostel.]

8th February

Weather: Heavy rain all day.

The rain has done some damage to the road, requiring two of us to ditch and fill. The front of the cottage has been glazed by Pat. It is not possible to floor the front room yet as no polystyrene is available in Machynlleth. Another 7 people have arrived, so we are now twelve, housed in the Corris Cells. John Beaumont seems worried about the question of tourism and I hastened to reassure him of how I feel. Audrey has 3 beds and mattresses for us. Cliff recorded a gust of 70kph today.

9th February

Weather: Rain early, clearing later.

Diana talked with John Beaumont this morning, to reassure him that we are not interested in making money from tourism. A busy day, logging and ditching. Pat has directed the spring at the back of the cottages into a slate tank at the west corner. The glazing has been completed. Cliff has made a slate culvert at the bottom of the road, but we are unable to discover where the water should ultimately come. John Sandiland called with the Asst. Head of Forest Hill School, and has promised 6 pupils tomorrow for path building. Diana kindly cleaned the cottage interior, separating the tools for the catering, which makes life much more tolerable.

Distance Learning Blog: Architecture and Adaptation in Pakistan

CAT’s reputation for postgraduate study is known the world over. We offer a distance learning option for students keen to study on CAT’s Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies MSc. One of our current students, Suraiya, talks about her motivations for studying on this life-changing course.


I am a distance learning full-time student at CAT, studying for the MSc Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies course.

I started this course in September 2012 and have completed the first year while living in Pakistan. However, just recently we have relocated to Manila, Philippines, so I shall now be working on my thesis from here.

I graduated from a university in Karachi, Pakistan, with a BSc (honors) degree in Architecture, in 2001. From then on, till recently (just before the relocation) I have been a practising architect, specializing in residential design. I have also taught architectural design for 3 years, part-time at the bachelors level.

Throughout the course of my career, while working and teaching in a developing country, my architectural practice started to seem very superficial. I seemed to be living and designing for a community that lived in a bubble and thus their housing requirements did not address the realities of today’s world. The grave realities of resource depletion, climate change and the need to work as a team to bring about not only change, but also learning to adapt and deal with the natural disasters that frequent increasingly.

In 2010, according to the government statistics, approximately 20 millions people were affected by floods that resulted from heavy monsoon rains all over Pakistan. Leading to the loss of lives, livelihoods and destruction of homes. Since then this has become a recurring yearly natural disaster in Pakistan.

Realities such as these made me recognise that I now needed to channel my energies and design to positively contribute towards something more meaningful and impactful.

The AEES course has not only introduced me to the present day issues and concerns that the world faces, but it has also equipped me with the technical knowledge which I can now use to achieve successful, sustainable designs.

To find out more about our MSc in Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies please visit our website. Applications are now open for the March and September intakes.

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Low Carbon Living: Spiced Apple Cobbler

Using calculations being developed for Laura’s Larder, we’ve created a low-carbon Christmas feast. This week’s blog is the last of the three courses and features the low carbon dessert: Spiced Apple Cobbler. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading these blogs and have fun trying out the recipes. Look out for more Laura’s Larder/food related blogs in the New Year, but for now – Nadolig Llawen / Merry Christmas!

Spiced Apple Cobbler

Serves 8


1.5kg Apples
60g Sugar

2tsp Ginger

1tsp Allspice

For the topping:
210g self-raising wholemeal flour
70g margarine
35g sugar
Ice cream to serve


Peel, core and chop the apples into small chunks and divide roughly into two. Place half of the apples in a pan with the sugar, spices and some water and heat until the apples begin to reduce down. Once the apples start to look a little bit like stewed apple, take them off the heat and add in the other half of the apples. Stir the mixture, making sure all of the chunks of apple are coated in the sauce. Add the mixture to your serving dish.

NB// The sugar and spices can be added in stages to suit taste preferences. (Those with a really sweet tooth may need to add more sugar!)

For the topping; add all of the ingredients into a bowl and rub in the margarine until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Add just enough water to make into a dough. Divide the dough into 8 and roll each into a ball before squashing slightly and placing on top of the apples. The topping should expand slightly when baked in the oven so leave a bit of space between each ball. Once assembled, bake in a pre-heated oven at 200C for approximately 15-20 minutes.

In order to make this dish suitable for vegans we used a margarine that did not contain any dairy products when making the topping mixture. We then served it with vegan ice cream. For the non-vegan option we served it with dairy ice cream. For those of you who have never tried a non-dairy ice-cream I would highly recommend it – it was absolutely delicious!

Low-Carbon Notes


Emissions relating to Spiced Apple Cobbler served with dairy ice-cream
Emissions relating to Spice Apple Cobbler served with non-dairy ice cream











Greenhouse gas emissions of the dessert

  • The scale of this bar chart is very small. These dishes have been designed to have very low greenhouse gas emissions scores
  • All of the emissions values used are based on commercially grown produce. This means growing your own or buying locally produced ingredients could reduce emissions further still.
  • High emitters:
    • The apples contribute the most to this dish as we have used so many. When comparing foods on a per kilogram basis, apples have low associated emissions.
    • Using the same amount of dairy ice cream as vegan ice cream makes the dairy option 2 ½ times worse from a GHG emissions perspective. The non-vegan dessert, however, still has very low associated emissions meaning that, if portion sizes are sensible, dairy products can be consumed as part of a low carbon diet. The downside to this is that when you look at scaling up these results for the whole of the UK population, rather than for one person and one dish – an emissions difference of 2 ½ times begins to make more of an impact.
    • Sugar is one of the lowest emitting foods available. I would advise restricting it where you can for health benefits rather than for emissions reductions.