Community led design as standard

James Irvine is a student on the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) Professional Diploma in Architecture (Part II) course. Here he reports on the second residential period at CAT, where students have been applying the principles of community engagement. 

I travelled through to CAT from Lincoln on Sunday to arrive late in Machynlleth. During the final leg of the journey I actually managed (after rectifying a brief lapse of concentration – or getting on a train to Sheffield instead of Birmingham) to tie together some of the presentation we were asked to prepare for Monday morning. The end of September’s Prof Dip week saw our group being split up and tasked with researching different elements of a site in Ceinws. The site is the focus of our first project: a decommissioned piece of Forestry Commission land (now Natural Resources Wales) which is being considered for social housing. Our group chose to research the subjects of land tenure, financial, legal and governance of the project which (maybe surprisingly) was the most popular choice. Other group’s elements of site research included: energy, environment, topography, historical, transportation, materiality and building typology / vernacular.

Architecture part II
The team: Professional Diploma in Architecture students 2014

So, upon arriving at CAT, I was greeted with some left-over supper and by my group: Tasha, Gemma and Paulo and we spent the rest of the evening catching up and putting the finishing touches to our Monday morning presentation before heading to bed. We were all really pleased to be back at CAT and surprisingly well prepared and informed of each other’s research directions, due to the pretty consistent flow of emails, messages and Skype chats between us since September’s module.

Monday morning and our presentation was well received. We spoke of Community Land Trusts, self builds, flexible models for growth and Section 106 agreements for affordable housing… though what is really worth mentioning is the amount of information that the group as a whole managed to gather about the site! Site analysis is a fundamental part of any architecture project and one of the first skills we are asked to develop as undergraduate students: observation, sketching, photography, research, sense of place, even conversations with the community in the local pub are valuable information gathering skills (or not so much…) and up until now I have relied upon my own skills, resources and analysis techniques to take me into a project. But with twenty people working on a project, and each with a different approach we managed to uncover a huge amount of information. There was an impressive level of presentation and we learnt loads from each other’s work – and what a rich resource to begin a project with! It was rare during my part one to work collaboratively, which felt un-natural to me – (surely architecture firms work collaboratively?) I got the feeling that the whole group had embraced this way of working and that the whole really was greater than the sum of it’s parts; all at the end being grateful for each others contributions.

It is worth mentioning that the Ceinws Affordable Rural Housing Project is a live project, being that the Ceinws community has recognised a need for more housing for a changing local population. The last ten years has seen a local community group and Community Land Trust being set up to protect the land with extensive consultations taking place. The proposals have drawn support and partnerships from local and national agencies and the work we will produce for the project will hopefully help inform, and draw further support for the housing project.

Infographic Ceinws
An infographic of the Ceinws community, by fellow student Kirsty Cassels

The rest of the week gave us plenty of time to re-visit the site and develop our designs. Ideas were shared and discussed within the group and there was ample time for feedback from our tutors. For this project we couldn’t ask for a better team of architects with the relevant experience to guide and support our group: Prof Dip’s course leaders Duncan Edwards and Trish Andrews. Duncan gave a lecture on the work he has done on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne: working with the local community to establish affordable social housing solutions in this delicate location. He spoke of the enabling and transformational aspects that good housing can give to a community and also the frustrations of negotiating a bureaucratic system. Trish has lived locally for a long time, has a wealth of local information and is a key member of the steering committee for the Ceinws Project. Pat Borer – who gave a short workshop on calculating U-values and who with David Lea designed the WISE Centre here at CAT which we work in every day, and which really is a beautiful space to be taught in and David Lea who has designed and been involved in several social housing projects throughout the 70’s and 80’s and gave a lecture about the efficiency of space and the importance of maintaining green spaces in cities and urban areas.

This issue really resonated with me as over the last couple of years I have been working alongside charities and community groups in my home town of Lincoln on placemaking and community gardening projects. This work has shown me the clear therapeutic benefits of gardening and what a positive difference green spaces and a connection with nature can give, which is not always easy in a city.

Some other great lectures this week included an introduction to the principles of Permaculture by Chris Dixon. I had no idea that permaculture was such a wide reaching discipline – it’s ethics embracing development on a personal, environmental and community level. There was an evening lecture from Sunand Prasad, ex president of the RIBA from Penoyre & Prasad Architects who won this year’s AJ100 Sustainable Practice of the Year.  Elena Blackmore gave a really inspiring lecture about Common Cause. Common Cause were set up to promote debate around the values and motivations which affect societal change. Or alternatively: to encourage change through fostering intrinsic values – such as self acceptance, concern for others and care for the natural world – and move away from negative power structures which foster fear and alienation. Anna from Adaptation Scotland gave a really inspiring lecture about the challenges of adaptation and mitigation to climate change from a national agency’s perspective. The key things that I took from this was that effective change is the most sustainable when it begins at community level.

There was definitely a thread running through the weeks lectures and workshops: responsible design, community development, collaboration, dialogue, reinforcement from research from classic and social sciences, the challenges of engagement beginning from a positive perspective and not through fear. These are the reasons I chose to come to CAT – where else could you go?

We also tidied the wood working barn, this time lapse shows what we achieved:

Find out more about CAT’s Professional Diploma in Architecture.

Imagining a climate resilient community

Anna Cooke-Yarborough reports on the latest part of the MSc Sustainability and Adaptation course, which included sessions on permaculture with Chris Dixon and Ruth Stevenson, Values with Elena Blackmore (Common Cause) and Sustainable Architecture Practice with Sunand Prasad (ex president of RIBA).

The second part of the first module was ‘Context and Planning’ and our task for the week was to envisage a climate resilient community on the land around Castell y Bere. This is a castle initially constructed in the 12th century and now lies ruined, situated on a hill near Llanfihangel-y-pennant in Gwynedd, Wales.

Planning a climate resilient community
Planning a climate resilient community

We were divided into two groups and headed off to explore the location using Castell y Bere as a viewpoint. All the land we could see from the castle site was available to work with. The use of the natural drainage divide, marked by the peaks of the hills around, felt very appropriate as one of our aspirations was to make the area ecosystem enhancing. Understanding the precipitation and drainage of the land were key to improving the environment for all the organisms dwelling there. To give time to develop an individual view we approached in silence and came together once everyone had had enough time to consider the space alone. As a collective project this quiet time proved important, the group work that followed was full of highs and lows, concentrated, a little frayed, but most of all a great learning experience.

student exerise
Personal reflection was the starting point for the exercise

We were expected to provide for a population of 500, be fossil free within 10 years, increase resilience, be waste free, carbon sequestering and ecosystem enhancing, and to promote non-growth trading. With so much to research in a short time-scale both groups divided into sub-groups to explore the important areas of this imaginary community in more detail. These were decided as water and food, shelter and energy, health and wellbeing along with governance, transport and communication. The interdependence of all these aspects was clear from the start and so frequent sharing of discoveries and ideas was key. The realisation of the extent of flooding experienced in the area was an important turning point in much of our thinking, and this had to be considered alongside the likelihood of longer dry spells as well.

Discussing climate change adaptation and flooding
Discussing climate change adaptation and flooding

Spider diagrams, timelines, playdough figures, poems, acting, long discussions, longer debates and many maps all ensued. One thing was clear from the start – this was going to be a challenging week.

The Architecture Practice Lecture given by Sunand Prasad was full of ideas we could take forward and use in our community design. He made mention of ending reliance on fossil fuels, the importance of flexibility and symbiosis along with the idea of leaving no trace. Something I found particularly useful was the notion that buildings cannot be finished, that they need to be constantly tuned.

One of the key things we were able to look into throughout the week was Permaculture design, with lectures from Ruth Stevenson and Chris Dixon. The importance of cycles, appropriate zoning and working with natural systems in Permaculture design became clear, along with the versatility of the ideas involved, which can be attributed to all aspects of life. The emphasis on rediscovery and understanding traditional systems were particularly interesting. There is so often an emphasis on the development of new ideas, when many important possibilities are either hidden or forgotten.

Elena Blackmore from Common Cause came to give us a lecture and workshop on values. It was interesting to see how many of our values as a group were similar, which was probably related to the decision we took to take the course, whilst even in this niche setting some values were very contrasting in terms of how important we deemed them to be. Often perceived as something abstract it was good to learn more about values, including how they can be changed and how they affect responses to global issues. In terms of planning our communities it was useful to establish as groups the most focal values, using these to help guide some decision-making.

student working
‘Valley Republic’ working group

After a lot of table moving, information sharing and weaving together of ideas it was finally time to clamp down and get a presentation together. Both groups were secretive in their final plans, so the last hours were tense and exciting.

Republic of Naz told the tale of their community in the setting of “Memory Tavern”, making use of drama. It was an extremely funny, clever and playful display of the development of the community, complete with a special effects transport display! The Valley Republic similarly took the view to look back over the growth of their community, this time at a celebratory festival. They put together a presentation with Bardic linking to the different sections, complete with a beating drum. The community were caught out on their desire to be pirates with the inclusion of a large, wooden boat in their master plan.

cycling presentation
The Power of cycling – lively presentation by ‘Naz’ working group

So the group work phase came to an end. All of us had learnt a great deal and it was a little sad leaving behind all our plans. There are whispers in the air though.

It was time to celebrate the end of a long week again and Friday night made way for a Halloween party. There was a lot of face painting, a murder mystery game underway in the straw bale theatre, music and dancing, with thanks to the super organisation by Kirsty Cassels, Josh Shimmin and James Irvine.

Halloween face painting
Face painting for Halloween party

On Saturday we had the opportunity of a lecture and workshop from Anna Beswick, who works for Adaptation Scotland. Having had a week working largely outside of real-world scenarios this was a valuable and positive insight into the difficulties faced along with possibilities and examples of adaptation across the UK, with the importance of dialogue, community involvement and working across regions made clear.

At lunch we headed our separate ways again, our heads full of ideas and thankful to everyone that made it such an enjoyable week. We all went away a great deal more knowledgeable about the challenges and opportunities surrounding community planning.

To find out more about this course and others, come to CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment open day on November 16th

Masters Courses Open Day November 2014

16 November at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT)

10:30 – 4:30

Join us on Sunday the 16th November to meet tutors and decide which environmental masters degree at CAT is most suitable for you. There will be an opportunity to:

* Have a tour of the Centre, including accommodation and teaching facilities *
* Meet past and current students *
* Meet tutors on the courses *
* Experience a taster lecture *

To book a place, including a free lunch, please email Kit Jones gsmo@cat.org.uk by 9th November. If you can’t make this date but would like to know about future open days please contact the same address.

Masters degrees open day

Leading Environmental Centre

Based in a stunning setting in the Welsh hills, the Centre for Alternative Technology has been providing sustainability education for over 40 years and offers a range of inspirational postgraduate programmes. A unique combination of leading professionals, academics and authors teach and lead the the courses, offering GSE students the ability to develop not only their theoretical and academic knowledge, but also their practical skills.

Who should study at CAT?

Anyone who wants a flexible, challenging masters course in an environmental field will find studying at CAT rewarding. CAT offers MSc courses in these areas, and tutors will be on hand to talk about all of them on the open day:

Environmental science and policyEnvironmental policy masters

Degrees at CAT are for anyone who wants to understand the implications of environmental change for our society. The MSc Sustainability and Adaptation degree encourages you to develop a deep understanding of environmental challenges. It interrogates the social, political and economic transition that adapting to and mitigating climate change involves. Many students from CAT have gone on to work in local, national or international policy in the public sector and for NGOs and campaign groups.

renewable energy mastersRenewable energy

For people wanting to build a career in the renewable energy industry the MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment degree programme is an ideal launchpad. Graduates of CAT have gone on to work for large engineering firms, energy companies, have developed their own projects and set up their own firms. It is a technical degree that gives you the skills to be involved with both the practical and strategic side of developing renewable energy.

Buildings and the built environmentenvironmental building courses

Students interested in sustainable construction and design are able to develop an in depth understanding of issues related to buildings and environmental change. The MSc Sustainability and Adaptation in the Built Environment course offers students practical experience in ecological building design and methods, as well as a detailed understanding of environmental building issues including energy management, renewable technology, building performance assessment and water and waste management. CAT graduates have gone on to a broad range of careers including facilities management, consultancy, ecological building and policy jobs. Many have set up their own companies.

sustainable planning mastersPlanning and strategy

Sustainability and climate change resilience are becoming the twin pillars by which new developments will be assessed. The MSc Sustainability and Adaptation Planning masters degree is the route to understanding these twin challenges on both the practical and strategic level. The course includes master planning exercises, applied projects and units covering cities and communities, water management, buildings and energy provision.

Lecturers from all these courses will be available on the open day to answer your questions

Sustainable architecture

Students wanting to study on our Professional Diploma in Architecture should contact us about arranging a visit during one of our teaching weeks instead of coming to the open day: gsmo@cat.org.uk

Student experience

Watch the film to find out why masters degrees at CAT are different

Flexible Learning: Distance learning or on site?

Degrees in sustainability and adaptation (including the built environment and planning pathways) have been designed with a completely flexible approach to learning. Students can choose for each module whether they want to study it on site at CAT or by distance learning. You can choose to take the whole course by distance learning, the whole course on-site or a mixture of the two.

What our students are saying

“Enjoyed every minute of the course. I now, for the first time in my life, have a job I truly enjoy”

“I have rarely felt so motivated, happy and focused. I have never danced so much either”

“I found the course exhilarating from the start”

“The MSc had a huge positive impact on my life. Now I have a job I love”

“Helped me work out how to go forward in life”

“I can totally recommend the course, particularly as its flexible and you can tailor it to meet your needs”

“Without it, I wouldn’t have my job. I only had the opportunity when my interviewer noticed that I had been to CAT!”

“The MSc is one of the most rewarding and enjoyable things I have ever done.”

Postgraduate open day

16 November at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT)

10:30am – 4:30pm

The open days will be held on 16th November 2014. Please contact Kit Jones to book (includes free lunch), or if you can’t make this date and wish to be kept in touch about future events gsmo@cat.org.uk.

Transition People, Transformation People

environmental student
Sustainability degree
Students (Photo: Anna Cooke-Yarborough)

Helen Kennedy, a student on CAT’s new MSc in Sustainability and Adaptation masters course reflects on her experience of the first module.

A fortnight ago, I was preparing for my first week away, holidays discounted, for many years. I’ve been 22 years out of my own academia, and 22 years in the world of education as a teacher. Certainly, my career involved the odd training day, but as educational policy changed, so did the nature of these training days, and what had started out as my choice of training in areas which interested me and influenced my individual style slowly but surely became training in managing policy change and accommodating the latest dogma. I felt the real world was getting lost somewhere. Moreover this Real World was something I was becoming increasingly concerned about. So, it was with a huge amount of excitement that I packed my bags in readiness for something I really want to be involved in; something which will influence and educate me massively and hopefully as a product, influence others too.

I was not disappointed. Amongst the aims of this first module, it is stated that whilst getting an overview of the implications of transformational adaptation for social structures, land use, energy provision, economics and governance and its impact on the environment, we should also appreciate the interconnectedness of these things. As the week’s lectures progressed, this became increasingly apparent and it was interesting to hear about sustainability and adaptation from such diverse angles.

Student project
Bird hide (Photo: John Butler)

Each and every one of us took something important away from the many lectures and seminars, and for me, every lecture prompted the recall of the sort of things my partner and I would discuss over breakfast, and left me feeling that maybe I could make some sort of difference.

Adam Tyler’s “Energy Now” brought home perfectly just how big the gap is between the energy we use every twenty-four hours , and how much we could physically make ourselves in that same twenty-four hours, (41 days of cycling being equivalent to one day’s energy use).

Cath Hassell’s lecture on Water Security changed completely the way I think about expanses of lush green lawns in Spring and Summer, in terms of the water needed to maintain them, and the discussion regarding bottled water consumption brought to mind an article I had read about the terrifying “gyres” of plastic bottles floating in the middle of the world’s oceans.

The three lectures given by Tom Barker, Environmental Change, Biodiversity Changes and Ecosystem Functions were for me a brilliant introduction to a huge and complicated subject, and underlined how even gradual changes in complex systems can have far-reaching consequences. The phrases that stay with me are “keystone species”, “Snowball Earth” and “tipping points”. These lectures particularly affected myself and others in quite an emotional way, and I think it’s fair to say that we all came away feeling a sense of urgency, a purpose.

Lectures about Politics, Economy and Sustainability prompted discussions about what alternative models might look like, and a consideration of their advantages and drawbacks. The notion of negative interest is one example of a few concepts which have never occurred to me, and despite thinking that these might be dry areas for me, I have become excited to find out more.

fantastic location
University in the mountains (Photo: Helen Kennedy)

Lectures given by Bryce Gilroy-Scott and Tim Coleridge on Sustainable Cities and the Built Environment, coupled with Adam Tyler’s reprise to talk about Energy Futures were a positive force in strengthening our belief that change is not only possible, but that there are also a plethora of ways in which it might be accomplished. The challenge of designing well, from the outset, from the inside-out; in choosing suitable and adequate energy supplies, using materials innovatively and considering how settlements are organic and might successfully operate increasingly as a more closed cycle, is an exciting one.

This was a very full week, where time was most definitely not linear, and friendships were forged, through discussion, group work, room-sharing, over mealtimes, drinks and dancing. That this took place, and will continue to take place in such a special setting, surrounded by four decades of experimentation which has seen sustainability move from the fringes into the mainstream, made it even better. The Scottish Referendum was an inevitable backdrop for the week, and in spite of the result, the Friday night Ceilidh celebration was a wonderful and rather sweaty (for me!) end to the week’s events, organised brilliantly by Kirsty Cassels and the musicians Geoff, Matt and Roddy. I reckon they only did it to avoid the half hour long dances that left my face looking like a beetroot.

I came to this course as an introvert, and that is something that will not change. Snatched moments in the morning were precious, and found me mostly mountain-gazing into the morning mist, watching goldfinches and listening to their bell-like tinkling, finding the cherry tomatoes in the poly-tunnel and just eating one, and wondering in the stillness of the morning at the one beech tree that shook its leaves whilst the others remained motionless. Yes, it was a real challenge for me to meet so many new people all at once, to share a room, to speak out and to survive such an intense time of immersion with so little time for contemplation. What made it possible was the quality of the people – the MSc students from such diverse backgrounds, the Architecture students who put on such a stunning exhibition of their work for us and studied alongside us, the course leaders, my patient and very lovely room-mate.

The people who arrived nervously at the beginning of the week were not quite the same people who left the following Saturday. We are arming ourselves with knowledge that will empower us and others. We are changing. We are people in transition; Transformation People.

By Helen Kennedy

Also read Helen’s blog about her open day experience at CAT.

Student life
Friday night knees up (Photo: John Butler)

 

Starting an MSc is a life-changing decision

By Helen Kennedy, who just got back from CAT’s postgraduate open weekend where she came to find out about our new MSc Sustainability and Adaptation course. 

Helen Kennedy at Treffyn
Helen Kennedy at Treffyn

Having 22 years’ teaching experience, and not liking the way things have been going for some years, I decided to try somehow to make a difference both to my life and possibly the lives of many others by taking more practical skills and thinking back into the classroom. But how to do it? Budgets are tight and present government educational climate wrong to try to do it from the inside, so, having long been interested in the world of renewable energy, sustainable building methods and permaculture design, I have decided to get trained up and qualified, and try to deliver what I feel is crucial stuff back into the world of primary and secondary education from the outside.

And so I began to look into the possibilities. It didn’t take long to realize that the courses available at CAT offer something you cannot get anywhere else, in terms of the wealth of knowledge concentrated there, the immersive environment, the “what you see around you everywhere reflects what you learn” whole ethos of the site itself, the great reputation of CAT and its long-standing history. I visited CAT as an enthusiastic 7 year old, and remember the revolutionary half-flushing toilets and hand-made wind turbine. From tiny acorns, as the saying goes.

I arrived on Saturday morning feeling excited but rather apprehensive about the weekend, and as the funicular carriage heaved me up the steep slope, it was difficult not to feel seven again, with my weekend’s belongings stuffed in a bag and a thousand questions stuffed in my head.

The gathering of people in front of the WISE building reflected the sheer diversity of those interested and driven to make whatever differences they can to tackle the environmental changes happening to the world, and to learn more about it, or to pass on their expertise, and I was immediately made to feel welcome, and taken on an impromptu tour of some of the work undertaken by students during a week of trying out different wall building and rendering techniques, including home-made lime putty, pizza ovens and a potential sauna. CAT students obviously know how to have fun 😉

CAT students making lime putty last week

The weekend formally began with an introduction to CAT from Tim Coleridge, followed by a lecture about climate change and adaptation delivered at lightning speed by Ranyl Rhydwen, who could get his message across to a sack of spuds, so lively is his style and passionate is his conviction. Catching our breath (!) we were whisked off on tours of some of the AEES [course to be replaced by Sustainability and Adaptation in September] students’ projects, and very industrious stuff it is too. From investigations into the properties of different mixes of hemp shives and lime, to exterior render experiments, some even including flour in the mix, and various different building projects underway, it was all very interesting. Brain overload was avoided by discussing also the social side of things; the starlit sauna up the steep slope behind the WISE building, or a, dare I say it, drinking den down the Magical Mole Hole!

Following a well-earned break, an exemplification of course modules and a Q&A session we went off to find our rooms. The first thing to hit me was the aroma of wood oil, and then the sliding door onto the decking area with daisies and a PV array, courtesy of this year’s REBE students. I could have stayed in there for the rest of the evening, except for the promise of pizza baked in a clay oven, a cool cider, some great company and an unexpected stomp up the slope to see the site from the wind turbines and to get eaten alive by midges as the sun sank behind some lenticular clouds.

IMAG0411
Cooking pizza on Saturday night

A peaceful sleep, a renewable shower and a vegetarian CAT-special breakfast later, we were all gathered to listen to Tobi Kellner’s Zero Carbon Britain lecture. This was possibly one of the most powerful 40 minutes I have ever experienced, and one with a hugely positive message. I have since returning home, downloaded the pdf file of this lecture with its brilliantly clear and user-friendly info-graphics.

I had to leave early, to see if my wild-camping partner and dog had made it to Aberdovey in the heat of the weekend (which they had), but my head was left buzzing with all the activities and messages I had seen and heard, and the fabulous folk I met, and hope to meet again, as a student. Fingers crossed.

If you missed the open weekend but are interested in the MSc courses offered at CAT visit the Graduate School of the Environment webpages or contact us.

Postgraduate Open Weekend: 17th- 18th May 2014

If you are an avid reader of CAT’s blog you will be well aware of the range of MSc Programmes offered by our Graduate School of the Environment. This May we are offering the opportunity for anybody interested in studying one of our courses, or anyone who wants to know more about the work of the GSE, to come and visit us to find out more about the unique experience of studying at CAT.

Based in a stunning setting in the Welsh hills, the Centre has been providing sustainability education for over 35 years and offers a range of inspirational postgraduate programmes. A unique combination of leading professionals, academics and authors teach and lead the the courses, offering GSE students the ability to develop not only their theoretical and academic knowledge, but also their practical skills.

Our two day event is no ordinary open day, with leading researchers sharing their work on climate change adaptation, practical activities on site led by students and an evening of pizza and entertainment, it promises to be a memorable and inspiring weekend that gives prospective students real insight into the experience of studying with the GSE.

The Open Weekend will showcase elements of our MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment course, as well as providing a first look at some of the issues and topics covered by our brand new MSc Sustainability and Adaptation in the Built Environment and MSc Sustainability and Adaptation: Transformation Planning courses.

REASONS TO STUDY AT CAT

  • Our programmes are designed to equip our graduates with the skills required to work in a sector of increasing importance and relevance and with high demand for skilled individuals.
  • The graduate school is a recognised CPD provider and its MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment is accredited by the Energy Institute.
  • Flexibility is at the heart of our unique on-site courses; students come on periodic 5 days attendances at the GSE, which could allow students to continue with their current line of work while studying.
  • The distance learning course uses a highly interactive, modern virtual learning environment with flexible contact times and high levels of student-tutor interaction.
  • All courses benefit from a diverse and experienced student community unlike anywhere in the UK.

Graduates from the programme can look forward to careers in a large architectural practice, local government, government departments, commercial companies, and within the education sector. Over fifty companies have been formed by alumni of the Graduate School of the Environment (GSE). Alumni include Stirling Prize nominees, members of government advisory panels, respected academics, authors, and award winning designers and contractors.

But don’t just take our word for it; come and see for yourself!

For more information on attending the Open Weekend, please contact gsmo@cat.org.uk.

If you would like to take the opportunity to stay in one of our lovely WISE rooms on the night of Saturday May 17th, please contact joan.randle@cat.org.uk for prices and a booking form.

Student Blog: Wonderful weeks of wind in wet west Wales!

A bit late I know, but better late than never I guess?? A couple of weeks ago I was back at CAT For the second week of the REBE wind power module. This covers large scale commercial wind development, rather than the smaller scale wind module that I will be attending later this year.

Image
Polenko wind turbine – ‘Stout’

The two weeks have been thoroughly enjoyable and extremely interesting. Before the course, wind power was my main interest, alongside hydro, so I had been really looking forward to this part of the course. It has also been quite an eye-opener in terms of just how many hoops developers have to jump through to get a project from conception to energisation, not least the biased views of ‘NIMBYs’ who can throw a real spanner in the works, despite often basing their objections on misinformation rather than fact or evidence. Alongside that you have got access issues, land designations, ecological impacts…the list goes on. Several students on the Biomass module that was running concurrently commented after hearing our group presentations that they wouldn’t be doing the wind module now as it’s far too complicated!

Despite these obstacles, my passion for wind power remains. It just makes so much sense for the UK to capitalise on its abundant wind resource, and I think we should be taking full advantage of it. Hopefully future generations will pick up the batten and NIMBYism will gradually erode away (here’s hoping!)

Nordtank wind turbine at Mynydd Gorddu

As usual on the course we had a couple of trips out, one to a local wind farm, Mynydd Gorddu which was the basis of our group presentation, and also a hike up the hills behind CAT to the bro Dyfi community wind turbines, which is what our technical report relates to. It was great to get up close to these magnificent machines, which in my opinion are very elegant pieces of green engineering (apart from perhaps the Polenko, which is quite a utilitarian-looking piece of kit!)

Throughout the fortnight we were also lucky to have several guest lecturers, covering various topics, all of whom delivered the material with real passion and enthusiasm, alongside Mike Patching, a veteran wind consultant who gave the bulk of lectures during the module, and whose breadth and depth of knowledge really showed through. One highlight for me was the final session of week two – an extremely thorough and interesting talk on offshore wind development from Pete Geddes of DONG Energy. This promises to be an exciting growth area in the UK and worldwide, especially here, where we already have a greater installed capacity than the rest of the world combined!

In summary, a great fortnight that has left me wanting to find out more, and a recommended module to take if you are thinking about joining the course.

Tom will be blogging about the REBE course after each module. You can see all of his posts here

Find out more about Tom over on his personal blog or follow him on twitter.

Starting a career in renewable energy

Dan Halahan, a graduate from the MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment course at CAT, tells about how he completed his MSc alongside getting a job working for DULAS, a local engineering firm that started as a spin-off from CAT.

Dan examining a PV panel on the solar roof at CAT

After finishing a BSc in Physics, I looked to pursue my interest in renewable technology. I volunteered for 6 months in the engineering department at CAT with the idea of later studying an MSc elsewhere in the UK.

Whilst volunteering I worked with a local engineer on refitting a 20kW photovoltaic roof array, which lead to an offer of a job at Dulas, a local well established renewables energy company.

I later found out about the REBE MSc course at CAT. The structure of the course allowed me to accept the job offer, but also carry on with my plan to study for an MSc.

I completed the MSc in 2013 and now work in the wind monitoring department at Dulas, specialising in remote sensing and installing Sodar and Lidar monitoring systems all over UK. The job has taken me to remote, far and wild corners of the country, both on and offshore.

I found it particularly rewarding studying an MSc with enthusiastic fellow students, in such a beautiful area with a rich history in renewables.. The course was lectured by professionals working in the industry, using examples of operating renewable systems within walking distance of the lecture theatre.

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.

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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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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.

MARK

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.