Artist Mike Sprout shares his work

For 6 months, artist Mike Sprout has been volunteering in the Water and Woodland Management department of CAT. During his time here he’s been inspired by the ever-changing landscape of Wales. After the Christmas holidays he shared some sketches in a pop-up gallery at CAT, here are a few of his pieces.

Nose of Pine

Pine Nose

Sun Face

05 totem


Could you be our next Media and Marketing Volunteer?

We have a position available to join CAT’s vibrant media and marketing department. It is a chance to develop a broad range of skills including writing, film making, photography, social media, interviewing, research and marketing skills. Robyn is just coming to the end of her placement, so what has her experience been like?  Scroll down for more details and to apply. 

I’ve been working in the media and marketing department for 5 months and the time has unfortunately come to pass the baton and invite someone new to the team.I started working here around the first of November and its been non-stop go!

View from the hill in January

I’m from a planning background interested in urban communities and sustainable retrofits with little knowledge of the marketing world, its acronyms and online databases. But after a couple of weeks, there’s no question about it, you become quite addicted into finding out the ‘click-throughs’ and the analytics of the work you’ve posted. At CAT theres never a dull moment, ”a TV crew tomorrow”, ”a conference today”, ”a crazy big storm on the way”, the opportunities are endless and you can work in any medium you like, be it videos, blogs, interviews or photography. Once a week volunteers can help out in another department or work on a personal project (although this isnt strictly monitored). During this time I either jumped in the gardens learning organic gardening from ‘gardening guru’ Roger, or ventured into the woods sawing, carving and weaving with woodland manager Rob.

Me out and about
Me out and about

With Spring pushing through (fingers crossed last year wont repeat) and the smell of summer on its way, CAT is bursting into life, the daffodils are blooming and the visitors centre will soon be reopening. The summer position to work in this department will no doubt be demanding but the pay offs with the in depth knowledge and skills you’ll learn are truly unimaginable.

The biggest benefit to volunteering at CAT is the opportunity get experience working somewhere with 40 years experience at the cutting edge of the environmental movement. Volunteers can also get a free lunch in the CAT restaurant, can claim for travel expenses, can attend two CAT courses (subject to availability) and get a year’s CAT membership for free.

Start Date: April 2014 (Exact start date is flexible)

Deadline for applications: 28th March 2014

To download the Media and Marketing Volunteer job description please click here

To download the application form click here

Send completed applications to: 


Lines Drawn: A weekend to shake up architectural education

The Centre for Alternative Technology & the Architecture Students Network (ASN) presents Lines Drawn, an exciting event on the future of architectural education. The conference will start off at 12 noon on Saturday the 15th and end 2 pm 16th of March 2014. It promises to be a memorable occasion and is set in the stunning WISE building at CAT.

ASN Flyer (2)

The debate will center around changes to the architectural education system in line with a new EU directive.  It will discuss whether part 1, 2 and 3 should be dramatically shortened or completely scrapped, what emphasis and titles there should be on professional practice and what the new EU directive might mean for architectural education in the UK.

CAT is already an innovator in architectural education. The professional diploma in architecture run at CAT lasts for a continuous 18 months, saving six months on the traditional part II course. It also contains an emphasis on practical experience, alongside academic content.

RIBA has estimated that it takes about a decade for an architect to be be fully registered and is often laborious putting a great deal of people off. Former RIBA president. Jack Pringle said “drastic change” is needed adding that its ”crazy, it can’t take that long to go into one of the poorest-paid professions.”

WISE Building

The event will take place in the WISE building, a unique structure using timber frame, rammed earth and hemp and lime in an  environmentally conscious design showcasing cutting-edge green building techniques. Book asap to be guaranteed a space.


Losing yourself in Woodland Management

Last week a small group of enthusiastic woodland women and men learnt many of the skills needed for managing and sustaining woodlands. The week-long course involves some classroom time, but predominantly takes place outside in the woods, here on site and in other nearby woodland projects. The course will run again this year from the 27th – 31st Oct 2014, so don’t miss it.

Bob Shaw shows the students how to measure a standing tree
Bob Shaw shows the students how to measure a standing tree

This course covers both practical and theoretical aspects of managing a small wood, using as an example the Coed Gwern woods, managed by CAT. By the end of the course, participants will have the foundations to confidently approach issues around managing their own woodland and will have gained knowledge of woodland craft such as pole lathe turning. One smiling student on the course said that the course is ‘full-on, with a great mixture of practical and lecturing throughout the day – usually ending up tired and dirty but full of questions’.

A student learns the art of pole lathe turning

The course includes charcoal making, which can be used to add nutrition to the soil by slowly releasing its embodied energy back into the earth instead of being burnt off rapidly as usually occurs when burning wood. All types of organic matter such as kitchen waste can be placed inside an old oil drum and set alight, producing the aromatic biochar. Participants also get a chance to learn a low carbon, efficient and flexible approach to timber extraction using cob horses. The course is taught by expert woodsman Bob Shaw, who has over 10 years experience of Welsh woods, assisted by CAT’s woodland manager Rob Goodsell, with a special appearance from horse-logging professional  Barbara Haddrill

Students pose in the mid afternoon sun
Students pose in the mid afternoon sun


There is also the opportunity for those interested to be tested on what they’ve learnt and to be awarded a certificate level 3 accreditation from the Open College Network. Katherine, a full-time CAT volunteer who attended the course said, ‘The certificate gives me the chance to make a personal handbook on woodland crafts and techniques to use after CAT – it can also act as a kind of portfolio for future jobs’.

New Skills in 2014: Build a Compost Toilet

We have a host of exciting short courses taking place at CAT in 2014, and up until the end of January there’s 10% off!  From the 4th to the 6th of July discover the power of poo during our ‘Build a Compost Toilet’ short course.

Although the vast majority of the UK’s houses are connected to the mains, there are some that must find alternatives to local sewage treatment works. Compost toilets can be efficient and practical, resulting in nutrient-rich soil to be used in the garden. They don’t use any water, although most types of toilet need a fair bit of room to allow composting to occur at a steady pace.

During this three day course the essentials for building your own compost toilet will be covered. With Grace Grabb, CAT’s water and natural resources specialist, course participants will learn about the changes human waste undergoes during the composting process. CAT’s resident carpenter Carwyn Jones will then demonstrate some of the techniques needed to build your own compost toilet.

Students sorting the nutrient rich compost
Grace sorting the nutrient rich compost

Composting your waste is a relatively easy and cheap way to reduce your waste and constructing your own toilet can be great fun. The soil produced after a year or two is pleasant to remove, and can be put straight on the garden (although preferably on non-food plants). Compost toilets are increasingly being built in allotments, back gardens and even indoors. Addition of the right amount of ‘soak’ gives good decomposition. A ‘soak’ is a source of carbon – typical materials include sawdust, straw and earth. The four main components to make your compost a nutrient-rich success are: heat, moisture, oxygen and a little dedication!

Carwyn constructing a timber frame compost toilet at Grand Designs Live in 2012.

From DIY to ‘off the shelf’ designs, this course can help you decide whether or not a composting toilet is right for you. The course invites anyone and everyone to join in, from urban gardeners to off-grid enthusiasts. Pupils will learn more about construction and cladding methods, as well as the biological processes that happen deep within the soil on a molecular level.

To discover a more holistic approach to waste management, sign up for the course now.

For those more interested in the theory behind compost toilets, rather than the construction methods, we offer a one day course: Introduction to Compost Toilets. This forms the first day of the Build a Compost Toilet course, and can be taken independently.

Remember, we are offering a 10% on courses booked before the end of January. For terms and conditions please visit our website.

Reflections on the REBE Masters so far…

A reflective guest blog from Mark Ogilvie, one of our MSc students on the Renewable Energy and the Built Environment (REBE) course.

I’ve now completed four residential weeks at CAT on the REBE MSc course, and it really feels like we’re getting into the meat of the course (albeit on a strictly vegetarian diet). The weeks are pretty intensive, with long days that feel like value for money. Some of the material feels familiar, much of it is entirely new to me, but it’s all extending my skills and knowledge at a rate of knots.


Indeed, the pace is the main thing I’ve had to get to grips with. I’m doing the course full-time, and this means keeping on top of deadlines – which in my case means dedicating long hours to the written tasks, while trying to make sure I allow enough time for reading.

People come to the REBE course from a disparate range of backgrounds, and this is one of the things I like about it. For the lecturers – all very expert – it must sometimes feel like herding cats, as they have to communicate advanced material to people with very different strengths and experiences.

I’m one of the older ones, maybe the oldest, on this year’s intake, and I’m using the course – as many do – to make some sort of a career transition. I had a first career in engineering, but have worked in marketing for most of my life. Surprisingly, much of the engineering knowledge is still there when I need it, and I think my marketing experience is useful in the commercial and presentational aspects of the course.

The hardest thing I’ve found is the level of rigour expected – particularly in essay writing and referencing, which I’ve never had to do before. I’m experienced in writing for business, but this is a different discipline, and I’m having to learn to adapt. But the support is there if you organise yourself to use it, so no complaints.

So it’s not easy. But when I’m struggling I try to remember why I signed up to the course – personal improvement was a big part of my reasoning, for sure, but at the heart of the decision was the feeling that it’s the right thing to do. I think the way we manage our energy resources and usage is one of the most critical things facing mankind. We all play a part in this, in the many choices we make every day – but I hope this course will help me do more than that. And if it does, then it will all have been worthwhile.

To find out more about our Masters courses visit our website.

New Skills in 2014: Timber Frame Building

We have a host of exciting short courses taking place at CAT in 2014, and up until the end of January there’s 10% off! One of our most popular courses is Timber Frame Building, a five day course from 31st March to the the 4th April 2014. 

This course is for anyone interested in sustainable construction, timber buildings and building your own home. This course particularly welcomes participants from NGOs working in development, self-builders, construction teachers, individuals looking to re-skill and architects. Over the five days students will gain unique hands-on experience, underpinned by talks on the process of planning and building timber structures.

The tutors on the Timber Frame Building course  are all experts in the field: Pat Borer is an architect with over 35 years experience in designing and constructing green buildings; Duncan Roberts is Programme Leader of CAT’s Part II in Architecture and Geoff Stow built his own home in Lewisham and is part of the Association for Environment Conscious Building (AECB).

Timber Framers in 2013

The course attracts a wide range of people from diverse backgrounds such as Yotin, who came on the course with his neighbour last year to learn how to live off-grid. The two explained that “the lecturers are kick-ass, down to earth and informative” sharing their expertise with a “hands-on approach”.

At the end of the course participants understand timber frame design and are able initiate their own timber frame self-build projects.

For more information about the Timber Frame Building course visit our website.

On the 16th August there will be a new course closely linked to this one: Traditional Timber Frame Joints. The course will cover an overview of the tools and techniques used in marking and cutting joints in a series of hands-on workshop session.

Remember, we are offering a 10% on courses booked before the end of January. For terms and conditions please visit our website.

New Skills in 2014: Grow your own Food

We have a host of exciting new short courses taking place at CAT in the new year – if you fancy learning something new in 2014, then how about techniques for growing your own food? This is a day course that starts in the morning of the 5th of April.  So why is it important to grow your own vegetables and what can we learn?

Freshly picked lettuce

This course is suitable for both beginners and experienced gardeners, to learn about organic gardening techniques. You will visit the various gardens and polytunnels on site, with orchards boasting over 30 types of apples. Students learn how to sow seeds and prepare the land for cultivation on diverse plots, such as in the forest garden and Myfanwy’s garden, an example of urban farming. You will learn from one of our longest running staff members, head gardener and ‘gardening guru’ Roger, who has worked for CAT for 35 years. He teaches about when and how to sow many different vegetables, as well as herbs and flowers. Some wise words he’s shared with us: ‘If you want to be happy for a day, get drunk. If you want to be happy for a year, get married. If you want to be happy for life, get a garden.’

Unusual urban planters

Find out more about this course on our website. Until 31/01/2014 we are offering 10% off this short course. 

If you would like to support the on-going research done here at CAT donate to our Gardens campaign.

High Hopes after Record Breaking Month for Wind Power

A clear success story for UK wind power this December, re-establishing its potential as a powerful force in the UK .

The future looks promising for the growth of wind power thanks to bad weather conditions and howling wind.  Overall, a total of over 2.8m MWh of electricity was provided to the National Grid over the course of the month, enough to power more than 5.7 million UK homes. Moreover, wind power met 10% of total electricity demand during December. The greatest triumph of the day however was on the 21st of December, the busiest shopping time of the year, when wind turbines swung into action and generated 132,812 MWh – thats 17% of the nation’s total energy demand in one day!

Wind turbines in Cornwall
Wind turbines in Cornwall

Predicted targets for a wide range of reforms that could drive more than £100 billion of investment in clean energy infrastructure such as onshore and offshore wind farms are being realised. It has also come at a crucial time for the Energy Bill that came through last year, as it encourages a secure supply of low carbon electricity generation.

Maf Smith, Deputy Chief Executive of RenewableUK said: ‘This is a towering achievement for the British wind energy industry. It provides cast-iron proof that the direction of travel away from dirty fossil fuels to clean renewable sources is unstoppable… British wind energy is providing a better alternative – a stable, secure cost-effective supply of home-grown power.’

Small scale wind generation at CAT
Small scale wind generation at CAT

The statistics represent the amount of electricity generated by the National Grid, therefore figures are even higher when taking into account the off grid wind farms and small scale generation.

CAT alumni launch School Farm Community Supported Agriculture

CAT alumni, Jenny Gellatly and Melissa Harvey, form half of the all woman team launching a crowd funding campaign to grow the UK’s only organically certified, no-dig community farm based in Totnes.

School Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), which is based on the Dartington Estate, operates as a not-for-profit social enterprise providing fresh, organic vegetables, grown using low-carbon methods. Jenny and Melissa, who had both worked at CAT at different times, but became friends through the extended CAT family, ended up at the farm following the horticulture training at Schumacher College.

The CSA completed a pilot this year and has been overwhelmed by support and demand for both its local grown produce and educational activities. At present the CSA supplies 20 local families and has this year held over 50 volunteer days, a subsidised beginners gardening course and several open days for the wider community, one of which drew a crowd of over 600. They also deliver the practical elements of the horticulture training through Schumacher and Bicton college.

The CSA team Jenny, Melissa, Laura and Zoë
The CSA team Jenny, Melissa, Laura and Zoë

The CSA model works with members of the farm investing at the beginning of the season, and then receiving a weekly vegetable box and becoming involved in the growing through contact with the farmers, volunteer and open day activities.Some additional financial support is needed in these early stages as the farm builds up land, resources and membership. The growers have chosen to raise funds through crowdfunding website Buzzbnk, where people can go online to pledge their support and money.

The four woman team, Jenny, Melissa, Laura and Zoë, who coordinate the farm and grow the vegetables all met through the networks of CAT, Schumacher College and the Soil Association.

Jenny says: “My experiences at CAT never feel far away, even though it is ten years since I was a volunteer there in the Site Maintenance Team.  No doubt the days on site – fixing and mending, building and creating – provided me with a lot of the practical skill that I can now use when it comes to running the CSA farm.  More than anything though, it is the spirit of CAT that stays with me, of trying new things, new possibilities and of co-creating the kind of world we want to live in.  That ‘get stuck in and make it happen’ approach really helps when it comes to co-creating something like the CSA we are establishing here in Devon.”

Melissa says: “The story of CAT has been an inspiration and demonstration of what it is possible to achieve when people come together, share skills and ideas and work towards a shared vision. When working in the Information department I used to give guided tours. My favourite part was stopping by an enlarged photo of CAT in the 1970’s. Asking the difference between then and now people would note that there were both more trees and plants, and more buildings. This simple observation really embedded my realisation that, when working sensitively, people can have a positive impact for both themselves and nature. This is very much how we work at School Farm, growing vegetables with and for people, developing a social and training space, and also working with nature to provide a nurturing habitat”.

Background information:

School Farm has been a thriving market garden and centre of education since 2007 when the neglected site was brought back to life by horticulturalist Nick Gooderham. This year, 2013, was its first year operating as a community supported agriculture scheme. Under this model the farm supplies local families and businesses with fresh organic vegetables and also provides a service to the community in the form of educational and social events.


Crowdfunding is a way of putting your money straight into projects which you consider most important and useful. On the Buzzbnk website School Farm CSA is offering donor rewards such a gardening course or packs to get you started on your own local projects but really the biggest kick comes from being involved and helping a worthwhile project get off the ground or expand.

What we will do with the funding:

  •  Increase our CSA membership availability to meet our membership waiting list.
  •  Expand our 1 acre growing area into a 2 acre field above our current site.
  •  Put in necessary infrastructure in the 2 acre field including edible windbreaks, protected growing space, sheds for crop storage and covered space for further educational activities.
  •  Create one full-time grower role.
  • Offer more educational opportunities including apprenticeships in partnership with local colleges, more gardening courses and more volunteer opportunities.
  • Continue to bring new entrants into farming by providing space where students can put into practice their learning and trial their own business ideas.
  •  Reach out to the wider community, particularly those most affected by the economic downturn, we will investigate offering CSA membership on a sliding scale.
  •  Continue building the involvement of the local community through membership, volunteer opportunities, educational experiences and our events program.
  • Develop further networks and partnerships across the UK.
  • Trial more ecological ways of growing food, utilising perennial crops, green manures and, in the long term, horse power.

To support the School Farm crowdfunding campaign you can donate or become a supporter (for free), where you can also see a short video about the farm.  You can also visit the website and join us on Facebook.