Student Story: David on his first two months studying long-distance

 

Well, I did it, submitting my 1st assignment 3 days ahead of schedule. Bejeesus, it’s a miracle.

The last few months have seen heartache, passion, a neglected back garden rise up and demand my attention, a neglected partner subjected to monologues about pro-western bias in the composition of sustainability indicators, and a file full of terrifying articles from journals with names like Ecological Indicators, Environmental Economics, and (my particular favourite) Environmental Impact Assessment Review.
How did it come to this? I joined the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in 2003, at the ripe age of 32. “Once you’re here for five years, you’re unemployable anywhere else”, said one of my new colleagues. Eight years on I am doing my dream job (alas, temporary) in sustainability and climate change at DWP and hoping to prove them wrong, by distance learning with CAT.

What is studying at a distance like? Challenging. So I was prepared, my friend Christine gave me a copy of her handy little text Studying at a distance.

In mid September study material arrived from CAT. Get down to it, laddie. You need to make time, set reasonable objectives and seize those unexpected moments of free-time to study. But I made lots of false starts. Frequently I would start work early, plan to finish early and get stuck into studying, but instead get stuck at work and finish at the usual time, tired and fed up with staring at a computer screen.

I found myself putting aside big blocks of time at the weekend, allowing me to ease in gently and tackle that opening hour where you find yourself strenuously filing emails in an attempt to avoid studying. Hence the neglected garden.

Helpfully CAT provides online seminars, discussion groups, reading lists, and a very patient tutor Saskia, who reins in my highfalutin literary adventures. ‘Don’t essays have to use words like ‘fungible’ and ‘inchoate’, Saskia?’ Apparently not.

I expected fellow students to come from a range of places, but I never realised how international CAT’s reputation was! In my online seminars I found myself sitting with American volunteers in Uganda, Malaysians in Bhutan and furniture-makers in Australia. All typing our expectations of how climate change will affect buildings in our area. Hard to fit into an hour-and-a-half.

How can I describe the smell of the University of East London library? Well – I can’t, because I doubt that I will ever venture in there, but I lurrve their electronic journals. Roll out tired clichés about kids and candy stores, because each article about sustainability indicators tended to reference another 15 who in turn each referenced another 15. And they all seemed to be in Ecological Indicators. I took to thumbing, in a virtualised way, through all the copies, and after a while everything started to look relevant, interesting, or both. I sought help.

Surprisingly, we are normally encouraged to choose our own essay titles for each module. Happily for the opening module, we were given a range of possible essay titles to choose from. I went for a thorny question about measuring sustainability, because I had helped review Defra’s (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) new sustainability indicators, and had also developed tools for measuring the sustainability of DWP’s policies.

I’ve done many new and unexpected things in the past 2 months, but a particular highpoint was retreating to bed early with my netbook so I could listen to Nick Baker’s podcast, whilst my partner watched Downton Abbey downstairs. This is the good life! Ventilation and condensation beckon.

Are floating homes the answer? CAT student proposes a solution for housing on floodplains. Includes drawing and sketches for floating homes.

 

Amy Hamilton, one of CAT’s architecture students, has recently had success in a prestigious design competition aimed at encouraging designers to prioritise nature in the built environment.

First run in 2009, the competition brings together interdisciplinary teams to demonstrate the importance of nurturing natural habitats in towns and cities. While ecology and biodiversity frequently aren’t prioritised in the design process, the IHDC contest encourages participants to consider how we can regenerate our living environments.

Amy Hamilton’s entry was for floating houses to be situated in a flood plain in the Dyfi Valley. “I envisage…new green spaces which will enhance biodiversity networks,” Amy says. “I hope the wetlands and floating homes to be an environment that brings wildlife to the people and the people to the wildlife.”

Moreover, as flooding on the site is set to worsen with predicted changes in the climate, Amy’s design looks toward the future. Adaptable to the floods, the homes will “provide a continuous reminder of the effects of the erratic weather patterns on the river.”

Amy’s design was among eleven entries chosen by the IHDC judges, along with fellow Part II Architecture student Oliver Goddard. Oliver’s project was a proposal for a permaculture garden in Milton, Glasgow. While not selected as finalists, their work will likely go on display at the Museum of London.

Everything you wanted to know about green roofs but were to afraid to ask

 

by Vicky Bhogal student on CAT’s Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies course

In February Blanche Cameron ran her module at CAT. One of the visiting lecturers was Dusty Gedge, who taught us about the benefits of green roofs.

Dusty has big plans to green London’s roofs: reducing the urban heat effect through transevaporation, helping to absorb water to prevent floods and replacing a building’s original green footprints with a living roof. As well as creating cool oases in the hot city.

Our flat roof extension in Brighton was on its last legs. Water was seeping through the cracked asphalt and beginning to stain the ceiling and walls. So it was time to do something about it. I went on a weekend course in practical green roof construction, run by Dusty. I came home with a sample corner section and an instruction manual.

I assembled my team: husband, good friends and volunteers from Brighton Permaculture Trust and ordered the butyl (pond) liner and thick felts. The construction took two weeks due to heavy rain, and cost about half the price of a conventional flat roof.


Help and advice on green roofs is available from CAT’s free information service. You can speak to someone about whether a green roof is right for you, download our fact sheets and find out where to get more information


We chose to replace the existing roof with a green roof because it looks delightful and we wanted to replace the grass removed when the extension was built We also wanted to encourage insect life into the garden. We used a substrate of varying depths and types, including lots of chalk, to recreate areas of local chalk downland, next to more compost rich, fertile areas. I transplanted lots of seedlings from our garden planted wildflower seeds.

At first, friends joked that we’d made an aerial weed patch, but during the summer the roof changed into a waist high poppy and wild flower field filled with bees and other insects. We have even been visited by the rare blue fritillary butterfly. Because it’s a living roof, it’s full of surprises; constantly changing and evolving. As we move into autumn, the wild flowers are dying back and there is a new growth of clover and snap dragons. I’m looking forward to watching the changes and seeing which plants grow over the next year.

I loved my time at CAT and feel blessed to have studied there. It has been a life changing experience. My formal training was in Art but the open access policy of the MSc meant that I was able to discover my hidden social scientist. I have developed strong friendships with students and we have also learnt a lot from each other. A group of us are working on setting up a local training and education centre in renewables and natural building techniques; with the goal of empowering and enabling others through sharing what we’ve learnt at CAT.

tea chest turf roof at centre for alternative technology.JPG
A turf roof at CAT

Experience: meet some of the new students and find out why they’re here and what they’re hoping to do next

This week a new intake of students are starting on our MSc Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies and our Professional Diploma in Architecture. We asked some of them why they’ve started the course, what they’re hoping to learn and what they hope to do with their new knowledge.

Here are a few of their answers:

I work for Southwark Council in central London, and also for a housing association. I’m hoping to learn practical skills. I’m hoping the projects I’m working on now will continue and I’ll be able to use the skills I learn on those projects. I’ve worked on things like green classrooms, community gardens and community bee keeping projects. Tracy


I’m hoping the course will open doors for me. I want to get into sustainable building. I’m very interested in strawbale building and timber frame building. Sam


I work for a firm of architects in Lancashire, I’ve been there for 7 years. They’re sponsoring me to do the course. I’m still working part time there. We’re hoping to focus the practice more on sustainability. We need to understand sustainable technologies and efficient building techniques. The building regulations are increasingly requiring that we improve efficiency and this course will mean we can keep pace with that. Alistair


My passion is housing and dwellings for people who don’t have them. In developed and developing countries lots of people live in poor quality housing. I’m interested in how sustainable building techniques can address that. I’m hoping to work on all kinds of projects. I’m hoping to work with developers who are interested in using more ethical and locally sourced products in their constructions. Andreas


Everyone needs buildings of some sort. There’s no getting away from that. It’s one of the more technical courses you can start if you don’t necessarily have an existing scientific background. I’d like to work in developing countries, perhaps with VSO. I’m hoping to gain specific skills that mean I could manage practical projects. Mona

George Monbiot speaking at a lecture at CAT last week

Leading British Environmentalist says climate talks are now ‘dead’

At a recent lecture given by George Monbiot at the Centre for Alternative Technology and pocast in part here, Monbiot argues that the international climate change negotiations are failing.  He says that we are faced with  “the complete collapes of the international process, the process is now dead…. it died in Copenhagen”  and says that for the first time in his lifelong work as an author and activisit  he has not got a clue as to what the answer is  “my certainities of what needs to be done have crumbled in the face of the complete ineptitude and uselessness of the worlds governments.”

The 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference was held in Cancún, Mexico, from 29 November to 10 December 2010. Although world governments reached agreement, many environmentalists have criticsed the Cancun agreement. John Vidal, writing in The Guardian, said the Cancun agreement did not show leadership nor tackle underlying questions such as how the proposed climate fund will be financed or commit to a legally binding emissions reductions.

George Monbiot- Author and Journalist
George Monbiot- Author and Journalist

George Monbiot was speaking at a lecture on the MSc Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies at CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment (GSE) that offers a range of inspirational post-graduate programs. Courses are directed by a unique combination of leading professionals, academics and authors. They are based in CAT’s stunning new eco-educational facility, the Wales Institute for Sustainable Education. With flexible learning programs to suit all needs, and teaching that places sustainability at its core – CAT offers an unparalleled academic and practical learning experience.

Other lecturers on the course include

Paul Chattertonwatch you tube video

Senior lecturer of Geography at Leeds University

Lotte Reimer- watch you tube video

Tutor on the MSc Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies at CAT

For more information on this or any other part of the Centre for Alternative Technology’s work in informing, inspring and enabling practical solutions for sustainable living, please contact the press office.

Ideas, solutions, ACTION! Campaigning courses at CAT in November.

Two inspirational courses running at CAT this November explore the ideas, solutions and action needed to tackle climate change. The People Power course runs over the weekend 5th – 7th November and looks at the methods behind grassroots campaigning, taking your campaign ideas to the next level. The Climate Crisis course from November 9th to 14th provides in-depth understanding of the climate debate needed to develop coherant, sophisticated campaigns.

Climate Campaign against drilling for oil in tar sands

Continue reading “Ideas, solutions, ACTION! Campaigning courses at CAT in November.”

Architecture Students find inspiration in WISE at this years professional diploma summer school.

This week the new WISE building at CAT has been buzzing with architecture students, all working on their final projects.  We took the opportunity to go and quiz them about what they are doing and how their course is going.

The WISE was alive with creative energy, paper covering the studio floors, cardboard models and sketchbooks spread out across the tables, the huge windows were filling the airy rooms with light, connecting and framing the woods and mountains around CAT.

aeesstudio2-copy

Continue reading “Architecture Students find inspiration in WISE at this years professional diploma summer school.”

Student Stories- November

This month the CAT media team met new student Ala M Hasany, an Iraqi who is currently living in London.We talked to him about his motivations for coming to CAT, inspirations and his poetry.

I started studying the Msc in Renewable Energies and the Built Environment a month ago. I have been working in Iraq and the Gulf for the last 20 years. I did a BSc in Building Surveying in London in 2008, prior to that I had completed an HNC in Electrical Engineering (1982) and an HND in Air Conditioning and Power (1985) in Baghdad
There are many reasons I have chosen to be here, obviously building my future career is one of them but I also want to look at ways the environment can survive what we are doing to it. I also want to use the course to research solutions to the Iraqi situation- and the relationship between the environment, agriculture and society. I am really inspired by the use of solar energy at CAT as a solution for a short fall in energy and by the idea of making the countryside totally independent of any grids- water or energy.

When I am not studying for my masters degree I am a writer for newspapers, blogs and the web. I write about human rights, in defence of peace, about women and children’s rights, the environment and in support of the environment. I encourage, through my work people to save energy, recycle, halt the depopualtion of the country side, promote clean, green cities and much more.
When I have finished studying I would like to work on the development of zero carbon building that are affordable for investors, builders and inhabitants. Buildings that minimize C02 usage, don’t use fossil fuels for energy. I would also like to see new structures to develop the UK using renewable energy sources. Also in Iraq, I would like to look at the sustainable development of Basra city, which has suffered lot. By 2050 I hope that we will have achieved zero carbon building and have great ways of protecting the worlds environments and be living in a world free of emissions. One of the most important things I have learnt from being at CAT is sharing ideas and information.
Here is a poem I have written about Basra
http://www.akhbaar.org/wesima_articles/culture-20091009-77856.htmlAla outside the British Libary in London

ed note* We are currently working on a translation.

Would you like to share your student story – please write to  kim.bryan@cat.org.uk