Woody Wednesdays at CAT

If you live locally and fancy getting out in to the great outdoors then come and join our woody wednesdays at CAT’s Coed Gwern Woodland.

Meeting Point – Just outside Pantperthog hall at 9:30am every Wednesday

Join the CAT woodland team for a day of working in the beautiful Coed Gwern Woodland.
A great opportunity to:
· Learn traditional woodland skills and management techniques
· Meet new and interesting people
· Get back to nature – enjoy working with the sound of birdsong in your ears and sun (or rain!) on your face
· Learn about our local wildlife and habits and the simple measure we can do to protect it
· Get invaluable skills and experience to help with future employment
· Tone up after Christmas whilst avoiding the Gym!
· Have Fun!

Tea, Coffee and biscuits will be provided. Please bring packed lunch.
If you are interested in coming along please drop us an email or give us a call.
Email: adam.thorogood@cat.org.uk
Phone: 01654 705 970

Inspiring new video about the CAT Graduate School for the Environment

A short film directed and edited by Dylan Byrne exploring the MSc in Renewable Energy and Built Environment at the Centre for Alternative Technology. With interviews from students and tutors including Hugh Piggot, guest lecturer and  wind energy specialist. Dylan Byrne is a student at CAT Graduate School for the Environment and a film maker. Further information about his work can be found here.

Music for the film has been provided with thanks, from Ember

 

 

 

Podcast: what will the next 40 years of the environmental movement bring?

Two weeks ago students on our MSc Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies course came to CAT for the annual politics module. This time, the module featured discussions on everything from green economics to behaviour change, and we’ll be presenting some of these lectures as podcasts in the coming weeks.

At the end of the week, students got a chance to put their questions to an expert panel featuring CAT’s media officer Kim Bryan, CAT’s external relations officer and Zero Carbon Britain director Paul Allen and Green Party Councillor Andrew Cooper. This podcast is an excerpt from the end of the discussion, as the panel debate the main achievements of the environmental movement’s 40-year history, and consider what the next 40 years will bring. The first speaker is Paul, followed by Kim and then Paul. The adjudicator is Adrian Ramsay.

Previous podcasts

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Lewin on the biomass module

This month was the start of our first double practical module. There were two modules running in parallel this month, biomass heating and wind farms. I’d chosen biomass as it’s something I’d never studied before, and doesn’t require spending as much time on wet Welsh hilltops. (Although the worst of the snow seemed to have passed CAT by, torrential rain caused some fairly serious flooding towards the end of the week and kept us on our toes).

The week kicked off on Wednesday morning with a day learning about the various types of biomass heating system from Duncan Kerridge from Dulas engineering. On Thursday, primed with fresh knowledge, we were taken on a whistle-stop tour of some local biomass facilities. Seeing these systems in the flesh and talking to the people who use them gave us a great insight into the practicalities (and impracticalities) of wood as a heat source. The logistics of getting wood from a forest to a boiler without it getting damp, eaten by bacteria, burnt too soon, burnt too late or jammed in fragile bits of machinery are quite daunting! We also got to have a look at IBERS , Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Science where a lot of research is being done on biofuels. This includes chemical analysis of different plants, and selective breeding of species to increase the fuel yields. It’s exciting stuff, and we get to poke around some interesting machinery. We collected fuel samples for analysis and returned to CAT for dinner and table tennis.

On Friday, whilst the wind farm group were struggling up hills in the driving rain to erect a met mast, we pottered around in CAT’s cosy teaching workshops testing wood samples. Water in the fuel means lower combustion efficiency and more pollution, which means that the wood’s moisture content is key to the performance of a biomass system. By testing the wood’s moisture content and then measuring the performance of the heating system we can work out its efficiency.

In our evening seminar we discussed some of the wider issues around biomass heating. Is burning trees really a sustainable energy source? Would we be better off using the wood for building where the carbon is locked away? Lively debates ensued!

Saturday evening arrived, and after a fairly heavy week we were all ready for some R&R. This month’s social outing was a celebration of the 205th anniversary of Australia’s possibly famous Rum Rebellion, which has special significance to our group because A: it involves lots of rum and B: it happens to be on our only free evening this week. A rule of ‘no shop talk’ is strictly agreed on and instantly ignored, and there’s rum aplenty. I’m sure we solved the world’s energy problems several times that night, but come the morning no-one seemed to remember what the answer was. Back to the drawing board, I suppose…

Volunteers get a taste of CAT

Josh on Volunteer Taster Session

 

This week CAT welcomed some volunteers for a taster session to show them what it’s like to volunteer at the Centre for Alternative Technology near Machynlleth.

Josh from Liverpool studied business management at university, and after travelling in Australia fancied a change of direction. “I wanted to try something different and unusual, so I’ve come to CAT to learn about gardening.”

The taster session gives volunteers an insight into life at CAT before they decide to stay for a longer period of time. Long-term volunteers can stay from two to six months, and there are several different areas in which volunteers can work:

•Natural Building Materials Research

Zero Carbon Britain

• Site Maintenance

• Water and Natural Resources

• Eco-cabins Maintenance

• Gardens

• Marketing/Media

The centre also works with local volunteers on a flexible and part-time basis. Click here for more information on volunteering.

Josh on Volunteer Taster Session

AEES student Howard Miller on the recent politics module

Part of the Msc in Architecture, Advanced Environmental and Energy studies at CAT is the politics module. It is a week crammed full of lectures, debates and workshops designed to give a broad perspective of ‘environmentalism’ and enable students to delve a little deeper into the politics. In this blog post Howard Miller, a student who took part in the module reflects on his learning experience.

As a long time subscriber to ‘The Economist’, the module awakened me to my ‘Green Capitalist’ theoretical standpoint. This is the idea that free market capitalism can be tweaked by adding green ‘compensatory’ measures such as carbon trading or offsetting via tree planting.

However, the book ‘Prosperity Without Growth’ by Tim Jackson was compelling. This challenges that GDP growth has ceased to be relevant to society in developed countries as once a certain level of wealth is achieved, it delivers diminishing returns of wellbeing. In fact, the continued fixation on growth (such as attempts to restore the status quo that existed before the 2008 financial crash) are counter-productive in that they fail to address problems we face such as caring for a large elderly population, providing affordable housing, or dealing with climate change. In pursuit of GDP, payment for care-homes, cleaning up pollution and rising house prices are positive as they add to the balance sheet, while caring for a relative in your own home or avoiding car use are negative.

In contrast, focusing on wellbeing as a policy aim would address these problems. For example financial support for carers looking after relatives could allow under-used housing to be made available while simultaneously reducing isolation amongst the elderly and sharing of the cost of heating.

‘Common Cause’ presented research during the module into how ‘Values’ motivate us to act in certain ways. They aimed to interrogate how marketing by environmental groups could be made more effective. For example, promoting insulation improvements by appealing to one’s values of ‘Wealth’, (e.g. by highlighting financial benefits) raises the stock of associated values such as achievement and authority at the expense of values more normally associated with environmental causes, such as benevolence and equality. The implication being that the short-term gain of campaigns could be at the expense of the wider cause.

To shift focus from valuing GDP to valuing wellbeing, a move away from values that promote self-enhancement towards values that surround societal benefit such as community, inclusivity, and responsibility are needed.

This realisation confronted how I thought about my work as an Architect. Looking through this lense, everything, especially buildings, could be considered an ‘advert’, asserting their values on society.

So-called ‘Green Architecture’ generally falls into one of two stylistic camps; ‘Hi-Tech’, which focuses on technology to reduce the environmental impact of a building, and ‘Hobbit-house’, which attempts to be low impact by embracing creativity and individualism. Neither of these styles reinforces values that underpin environmentalism. Hi-Tech is more closely associated with intelligence and power, while the hobbit-house look is associated with self-direction.

I left the module resolving to re-align my architectural design work to promote universal values such as broadmindedness, harmony with the natural environment, beauty, equality and social justice. Lets see what happens.

 

Statement about Closure of Quarry Shop and Cafe

Owing to financial difficulties within CAT plc, directors have announced that the Quarry Cafe and Quarry Shop, based in Machynlleth will be closed with immediate effect. The decision will affect 11 members of staff, who have been informed in a staff meeting. CAT plc directors would like to thank all the staff and customers who have supported the cafe and shop since they opened in 1979.

The Centre for Alternative Technology Charity Ltd, a separately run educational charity is committed to informing, inspiring and enabling practical solutions for sustainable living. Its charitable activities, including Graduate School, Visitor Centre, schools visits and research projects are not affected by the closure of the Quarry Cafe and Quarry Shop.

 

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CAT’s Graduate School for the Environment on Al Jazeera

The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Wales is a living laboratory for environmental technologies. It is unique in combining hands-on experience with top-grade academic teaching.

CAT’s training and education programmes are helping bridge the substantial skill gap that currently exist in the green technology sector; creating experts with the knowledge, understanding and ability that  the world needs to speed the transition to a low carbon economy.

Podcast: the first year of CAT

In February 1974, the first people of what would become the Centre for Alternative Technology arrived at an ex-slate quarry in mid Wales. In harsh conditions, they set about taming the quarry, re-building the derelict houses and machine sheds and pick axing paths through the slate waste. It was a hard life, and only those with immense fortitude stayed longer than a few weeks.

In anticipation of our 40 year anniversary, we’ve been collecting memories of those early days – and the subsequent evolution of CAT – through our oral history project. This podcast uses material gathered through the project, and tells the story of the first year of CAT from the perspective of the new incomers, and the local people who came into contact with it.

 

Previous podcasts

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Congratulations to Britain’s leading women in sustainable architecture

Trish Andrews HRH Prince Charles to some of CAT's student modern architecture

We are delighted to see that Blanche Cameron from RESET development and  former tutor at CAT, Trish Andrews tutor on the professional diploma course, Fran Bradshaw a visiting tutor, Anna Surgenor graduate of CAT’s Msc Advanced Environmental and Energy studies , Sue Roaf and Sarah Wigglesworth, course participant in straw bale building have been listed in the Architects  Journal, Women in Sustainable Architecture article.

The list recognises some of the UK’s leading women architects who are working to make sustainability an integral part of building design.  Fran Bradshaw, said: ‘We like people – that’s why and how we design. Together we can make buildings which are both a pleasure and practical to live in, and which use the earth’s resources carefully and imaginatively.’

With many of these women also teaching at universities and influencing our future architects, we could see a lot more good work to come.

Trish Andrews HRH Prince Charles to some of CAT's student modern architecture