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.


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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

CAT’s history to be celebrated with podcast and exhibition in Machynlleth


January 17th sees the launch of a podcast and exhibition about the Centre for Alternative Technology’s oral history project. The Glasu funded project seeks to celebrate, commemorate and investigate 40 years of CAT history in preparation for 40th anniversary celebrations in 2014. 15 volunteers and project organiser Allan Shepherd have together conducted over 70 interviews and some of the results will be available to listen to and see for the first time at two events in Machynlleth on January 17th and 19th.

The events will promote oral history, tell the story of CAT through the voices of those that made it and give people the chance to tell their own story and that of their involvement with CAT in ‘half-hour history’ recordings.

Organiser Allan shepherd says “We’ve interviewed over 70 people for the CAT oral history project so far but these events give people we have not been able to interview a chance to tell their own story, as well as listen to the stories of others. It will also allow anyone who is interested the opportunity to find out more about the history of CAT, talk to us about setting up their own oral history project in the area and find out what oral history is all about. We have all learned a lot from this project and we would like to pass a little of that knowledge on.”

“There will be displays, photos from 40 years ago and we will also launch a podcast that tells the story of how CAT started. The podcast starts and finishes with the voice of local farmer Huw Jones, who saw the arrival of CAT in the Dyfi valley and also includes interviews with some of the first people to live and work at ‘The Quarry’ as it was known then. The interviews have unearthed numerous hidden stories and it will be exciting to make those available to people through this podcast and other projects that will follow, leading up to 40th anniversary celebrations next year.”

The first event will be held at the Quarry Cafe on Thursday 17th January between 4pm and 9pm; the second on Saturday January 19th at the Owain Glyndwr Centre, between 11am and 3pm. Refreshments will be available at both events, entrance is free and you can come at any time. The displays will be in Welsh and English and a bi-lingual leaflet and questionnaire will be available. For those who cannot make either events the podcast will be available on January 17th on CAT’s blog.

Editor’s notes
1. The CAT Oral History Project has been funded by Glasu, CAT and a legacy from CAT founder Gerrard Morgan-Grenville. All interviews for the project have been recorded with equipment loaned by the University of Aberystwyth and Culturnet Cymru. The interviews will be kept on permanent loan in the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.
2. The first people to start work at CAT arrived at the disused quarry where CAT is based in February 1974. The first podcast tells the story of how CAT came to be in the Dyfi valley, and starts and finishes with the voice of local farmer Huw Jones, now in his 80’s. He is proud of the local council’s decision to allow CAT planning permission in the early days, against a chorus of disapproval from some local people who saw the new incomers as hippies.
3. CAT is now a leading environmental centre with a global reputation for learning, providing several MSc and numerous short courses. There is also a publications and mail order department, a visitor centre and a cafe and shop in Machynlleth. CAT has also created at least two important off-shoots, Dulas Engineering and Aber Instruments, and has provided an immense amount of opportunity for volunteers to learn and move on to other jobs and positions of influence within the environmental sector.
4. Contact project organiser for more details.

ZCBlog: Zero Carbon Britain 2013


2013 is here! Paul Allen takes a moment to assess what lies ahead and his hopes for the new year…

I have recently received an analysis from a group of my colleagues working for the International Network for Sustainable Energy who presented at the COP18 Climate summit in Doha, Qatar. The outcomes do seem to open new doors for climate action, but it is not the breakthrough that we need to keep global warming to sustainable levels (i.e. global warming not above 1.5 – 2 degrees C).

I was most relieved to hear of commitment to a second period of the Kyoto Protocol, from 2013 to 2020, and although there are clear loopholes that allow carry over of unused emissions credits from the first period, there will also strict limits to their use. There was also a call for Kyoto Protocol countries to review their emissions reduction targets by 2014 at the latest. While there are no guarantees, this decision gives a moral obligation for these countries to increase their emission reduction targets before 2020 and provides opportunities for them to do so in the climate negotiations.

A second phase of the Kyoto Protocol was agreed to cover the period 2013-2020 with reduction targets for European countries and Australia. Unfortunately the reduction targets are not ambitious, e.g. EU only committed to reduce 20% from 1990 by 2020, a target the countries almost have reached today. Another problem is that the countries with reduction targets only emit 1/7 of the global man-made greenhouse gases (if Russia joins it will be more, but still only a small part of global emissions will be included).

So as we say goodbye to 2012, we know the limited reductions committed at Doha will not lead to the reductions required for the rate of decarbonisation demanded by the science. It is therefore vital we rest and get ready to take up the cause afresh in the New Year. There is still hope for improvement as the Doha talks agreed a review of commitments by Kyoto Protocol countries, where they will propose new, hopefully more ambitious emission targets in 2014. The new targets should include much more rapid decarbonisation targets from the long industrialised countries to keep global warming below 2 degrees C.

Much more action is needed, from the countries in the Kyoto protocol, but also from major emitters outside the Kyoto Protocol, including USA, Canada, and China. We hope that during 2013, as we draw together the most recent work from a range of academics, universities, think tanks, NGOs and business and industry into the new report and launch a round of communications we hope the ZCB project will help catalyse a change in how the we think about rapid de-carbonisation, bust myths, highlight hidden benefits, break through misunderstanding, and stimulate urgently-needed economic and political debate around how we think about the future. Leaving it to the ‘powers that be’ is clearly not going to be enough!

Paul Allen

Project Co-ordinator

Christmas presents that make a difference


If you like me have not even started Christmas shopping yet, you could either put your head in your hands and despair about our consumerist society or do what I did last year and give someone a present that can really make their year. Just before last Christmas, my Dad came up to CAT and was amazed by the wooden pole lathes and shave horses he saw as we walked around CAT. I suggested he might like to do a course; “that would be brilliant!” he said. A few months later he came to visit again armed with his notebook, pencil and a lot of enthusiasm to take part in the Greenwood Crafts course. He had an amazing time,  learnt loads and now has his very own shave horse in the garden shed.  My only problem is this year all my family want a course at CAT for Christmas.

Which is why it’s great that CAT is offering a 10% discount up until 31st December. So if you or a loved one have ever wanted to learn how to build a coracle, make forged tools, or construct gates and fences, give horse logging a go for a day, or spend an intensive week learning the art of sustainable woodland management from experienced woodspeople, now is your chance! I myself have enrolled on the Blacksmithing course and can’t wait, here’s hoping it’s the start of a brand new career.

CAT’s short courses are a great gift idea for anyone interested in learning skills in sustainable living; this festive season, why not give someone you love the opportunity to delve further into an interest, or to take a week out from the hectic pace of life in the tranquility of mid Wales?

Participants on CAT’s short courses enjoy delicious vegetarian meals and accommodation nestled in the foothills of Snowdonia, as well as expert tuition from well-renowned tutors and CAT staff.

Below are some of the fantastic courses on offer in 2013. Book before the 31st and make the most of the 10% discount now available!

Develop your skills in woodland management and crafts

Gates, Fences and Hedges: learn how to create gates, fences and hedges. Ideal for smallholders.
Horse logging: experience a low impact method for logging woodland
Sustainable woodland management: a fantastic introduction to all aspects of managing a small wood. Learn how to add social, economic and ecological value to woodland.
Greenwood crafts: discover the basic principles of transforming greenwood into products.

Reclaim traditional skills

Coracle building: build a traditional vessel used since the Bronze Age in a weekend
Hedgerow herbalism: discover how to produce an incredible range of cosmetic and medicinal products from foraged materials
Willow basket making: spend a hands-on day learning how to weave with willow
Blacksmithing: learn how to use a low-tech, low-fuel charcoal forge and leave with the items you’ve made

Learn sustainable building skills

Strawbale building: learn this sustainable, simple and accessible building method
Make an earth oven: gain the skills to build an earth oven yourself, and secure a future supply of delicious pizza, breads and stews!

Listen to birds while munching chocolates: green Christmas gifts from CAT this winter


This week on our Christmas gift list, we hear from our Gardener, Roger Mclennan, about the top three gifts he’d get others from our CAT Winter Catalogue this Christmas.

Gravely pondering our shop’s collection of wintry gifts, Roger is first struck by the Common Garden Bird Calls guide. “I’d definitely want that for myself,” he explains, “because I’m really interested in bird songs – almost obsessed, really, I absolutely love bird singing. I’m far from an expert, but I do try to identify birds by their songs. It’s not easy, and you need good hearing which I don’t think I have these days.”

His second choice is more philanthropic: “I’d probably get the Trees for Life Calendar for someone else, because that would do some good for Scottish forests, which is really important.” The Trees for Life charity works to restore the Caledonian Forest, and the pictures look beautiful too!

Turning from environmental awareness to tasty treats, Roger concludes that the Monty Bojangles Truffles are always a safe bet. “They are very good – very more-ish, and quite sweet for truffles – they really are good,” he repeats. He’s bought them from the shop before, he explains, and would definitely get them again.

With this range of gifts from feel-good to taste-good, why not check out our online shop, or pop round to CAT for a visit and tour the site in company with our friend robins? While you’re here, you could also find out more about learning useful sustainability skills through our short courses – this year CAT is offering a 10% discount on short courses, which also make great presents for family and friends.

Introducing… Euan, our new student blogger


For the next few months Euan will be taking us to the heart of  the Professional Diploma course in Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy studies course he is studying at CAT. After each module he’ll write a post letting us know about the highs and lows.

You can read the work of our previous student bloggers here. We’ll also be introducing student bloggers for our other masters courses, Renewable Energy and the Built Environment and Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies.

After completing my Part One qualification at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow,  I was lucky enough towork in a variety of roles relating to sustainability in architecture. My year out began at a small rural architecture practice in Argyll where I developed a interest in community development, land ownership and sustainable building techniques. This placement led to me becoming involved with a charity in North Glasgow concerned with bettering facilities in a neglected part of the city. I moved back to Glasgow to become more closely involved with this ambitious project and assisted in designing and building a small community space intended to increase community engagement in the area. After my role finished, I ended the year working as a volunteer co-ordinator in Uganda, where I assisted running school building projects for the University of Leeds’ ‘Raise and Give’ program.

At each of these placements I was told by different people about the Centre for Alternative Technology and the Professional Diploma course. After attending the open days I made the decision to study for my part two on the professional diploma course as it seemed to have the staff and the expertise to direct my study towards sustainable architecture.

I have been impressed by CAT in my first few months and I have learned a great deal already during the modules. The staff are very supportive in the periods in between modules and will help with the projects when you’re back home as well as on site. The year group is small enough to get to know everyone very well. We all keep in touch during the study weeks in between modules, share ideas and resources and help each other out. Each time I’ve been to CAT we’ve all had a great time and it feels like we haven’t been away. So far it has been great!

Fabulous and functional green Christmas gifts from CAT


If you got to choose your three favourite Christmas gifts from the CAT shop, what would they be? Staff members at CAT like Rosie have been pondering this question – this week, we hear from Adam Tyler, one of our Engineers…

Flipping through CAT’s Winter Catalogue, Adam points to the Powerbuzz Magnets as an easy first choice – he got a chance to play with them in the shop, he says, and they make a cool noise when you toss them in the air. A great stocking filler.

Moving on from the quirky to the eminently practical, Adam’s second choice is the snazzy Frontier Camping Stove. “Well my job involves burning stuff, anyway, so I guess I’m a bit of a pyromaniac,” he says with a grin, “plus I’ve got a van so I could keep the stove in there just as well for when I go camping”.

As his third gift Adam contemplates the Makedo Find and Make Elephant Kit, but eventually settles on the Thunderbird Fuel Cell Kit. “As it says in the catalogue, it’s ingeniously designed for children, and I’m obviously a big child at heart – plus it’s got cool colours”. More seriously speaking, the fact that the fuel cell is powered by salt water is an engaging way to showcase alternative energy.


For presents useful and entertaining for young and old, CAT’s online and onsite shop is clearly a good first port of call in the build up to Christmas.