1974 – 2014: CAT turns 40!

2nd February 1974: “South West gale, rain.

Arrived at Machynlleth with Pat Keiller. Found the Centre very much as we had left it. A Douglas Fir had fallen across the top of the road, but all the structures are intact.

The evening at Lady White’s cottage, Pantperthog. Most comfortable.”

– Anthony Williams, project manager at the National Centre for Alternative Technology, 1974.


2014 marks the 40th anniversary of the Centre for Alternative Technology. When the first volunteers arrived on-site they faced a huge challenge – turning an abandoned slate quarry into a renewable-energy-powered sustainable community.

40 years on, what better way to celebrate their amazing achievements than with a party? On the evening of the 2nd February CAT staff and friends, old and new, gathered at the Centre for an evening of food, music and reminiscences on the theme of ‘Arrivals’, echoing the arrival of the first workers 40 years before.

For the past two years CAT has been running an oral history project to document the stories and anecdotes of people associated with CAT. Voices from a Disused Quarry is the culmination of two years of work on the project, providing a unique insight into CAT’s early days. It also formed the backbone of the party, with songs and sketches written especially for the evening based on the oral history accounts.

A CAT adaptation of the Monty Python ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ sketch.

Of course, the 40th anniversary celebrations do not end with that night. Throughout 2014 we will be hosting a series of events to acknowledge CAT’s accomplishments as part of the early green movement, as well as looking ahead to CAT’s future. All events will be posted on the blog and on the CAT homepage. We hope that CAT supporters will join with us in celebrating the inspiring work that has gone before.

Compost Toilets: a Grand Design or a Space of Waste?

Last week CAT headed to London for Grand Designs Live. We had been asked to provide live demonstrations as part of the ‘Natural Building Methods’ section – an area CAT has some experience in! After much discussion, we decided on glue laminating demonstrations for making arches for a Timber Arc construction. The Timber Arc is a beautiful example of timber frame building, using local and low-carbon materials. It’s also a dual-chamber compost toilet.

CAT's stand at Grand Designs Live

Our goal at Grand Designs Live was twofold: provide the public with an interesting demonstration of glue laminating, whilst also raising awareness of different methods of dealing with human waste. Compost toilets are not for everybody, if you are connected to a local sewage system then chances are you will not need to deal with your own waste. However, some off-grid locations mean that people have to be a little more creative in the sewage solutions.

Glue laminating at Grand Designs Live

During our time at Grand Designs Live, one thing that kept cropping up again and again was bafflement. People often asked us why we were making a compost toilet, especially one so beautiful. Well, compost toilets can be efficient and practical, resulting in nutrient-rich soil to be used in the garden. They don’t use any water or chemicals, although most types of toilet need a fair bit of room to allow composting to occur at a steady pace. We have several composting toilets up at CAT, working alongside our reedbed sewage system and providing us with fertiliser for our gardens. Furthermore, why not make a beautiful building to house your compost toilet? It’s a place you visit each day after all! We also liked how the idea of it fitted in with the ‘grand design’ aspect of Grand Designs Live.

Work on the arches for the compost toilet

People certainly seemed to agree with us, judging by the level of interest we received each day. Engaging with people on environmental issues whilst also showing how we go about dealing with these problems was wonderful. Moving people’s thoughts away from bafflement and towards more environmental ways of thinking is key. Hopefully in the future CAT will be able to visit even more shows to keep spreading the word.

For more information on alternative sewage systems check out CAT’s information page on the subject. We also run short courses on sewage and waste water management. Further info here.

To see more of the Timber Arc, head to Jules’ website.

What’s happening on Energy Day?


It’s only a couple of days until Energy Day, our celebration of positive change towards a brighter energy future. Below is a schedule of the tours, talks, workshops and activities that will be happening on the day. There will also be a bike-powered sound system, kids’ activities, stalls from renewable energy companies and community energy projects running throughout the day, as well as the chance to take your questions about energy and renewable technology to a range of experts.

Click here to download this schedule as a pdf.

CAT’s artists in residence explain a couple of their works


This past week has seen CAT’s artists in residence, Mair Hughes and Bridget Kennedy, exhibit Scientific Stranger in WISE. Part of a larger project entitled Utopian Realism, which will see the pair develop and exhibit work exploring radical experiments which have happened in rural places. The exhibition at CAT has been a success, with the artists engaged in long, considered conversations with people who have visited. The artists talked me through a couple of the works they are currently showing at CAT.

Geological Etiquette, Mair Hughes

The main image is of the Victorian lecture theater at the Newcastle Mining Institute; a gallery of the portraits of former presidents of the institute decorate the walls. Today the Institute is home to a library and an archive, which Bridget and Mair have combed during their research for the project.

Bridget and Mair unearthed a prose-poem entitled ‘King Coal’s Levee’ in the library. The poem personifies all the metals, characterizing coal as the King, lording it over all the others. It’s telling symbolism, revealing the import of coal in early industrial society, and the reverence in which it was held.

The work presents a ceremonial farewell to the symbolism coal has held in the past. The mirrored image creates a void in the centre of the work, which could be a disappearing point for the coal.

Mair was interested in exhibiting the collage in the WISE lecture theatre, as it provides an interesting parallel to the lecture theatre depicted in the work.




Crystal Systems, by Bridget Kennedy

A sculptural work combining digital media with a ‘spa box’ – a box made by miners in Victorian times featuring minerals found in the mines displayed as kind of subterranean landscape.

The animation which plays on a DVD screen inside the box was created from a text of Robert Owen’s. Bridget took Owen’s ‘Arrangements for Population’, a town planning manifesto, and allocated each letter in the text a height and colour. The text then becomes an animated structure, which resembles a crystal formation.

Placing the animation inside the spa box forms a nice juxtaposition with the more ‘low tech’ craft of spa box making. The end result creates something oddly similar to a TV – which is significant as the original spa boxes would have had a similar position in the domestic environment of the miners who made them.

A voice over reads a combination of writing Bridget found interesting during her research for the project, which has been spliced together to create something which doesn’t immediately make sense, though sounds as though it does. The end result is an ambiguous set of rules for design, or for living.

Thursday podcast: interview with Mair Hughes and Bridget Kennedy, artists in residence

Bridget Kennedy and Mair Hughes are CAT’s first artists in residence. This week, their exhibition Scientific Stranger is on in the WISE lecture theatre. Part of Powys Art Month, their project Utopian Realism has seen them research ecology, geology, phrenology, futurology, and the legacy of communitarian and founder of the co-operative movement Robert Owen.

In this interview, they discuss what they’ve found interesting about CAT, and what has been inspirational about working and exhibiting here. They also talk about the themes they have been exploring in their work and the role of artists in the environmental movement.

For more information about the artists, their work and their project, check out their blog.

You can stream the podcast here or

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Previous podcasts

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Podcast: interview with This is Rubbish

Interview with Rachel Solnick and Kate Blair from This is Rubbish.

This is Rubbish were formed in 2009 to raise awareness about the amount of food wasted in the UK. Since their beginnings at Feeding the 5000, a mass food waste feast in London that fed 5000, they have organized various events. 2011 has seen them tour Wales with ‘Feast’, stopping in eight communities and setting up a pop up cafe, hosting workshops, games and creative events.

The finale of their tour will be Forum and Feast on November the 5th, held at the Centre for Alternative Technology.

Previous podcasts

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Five blogs about wind power you should be reading


Hugh Piggott’s Blog
Hugh PIggott teaches an extremely popular corse at CAT on building a wind turbine. His blog has interesting updates about wind power projects happening all over the world, including lots of great photos.

Winds of Change
Fascinating posts on the political side of wind power. By its own edict, the blog seeks to campaign for “truth in the battle for renewable energy” and has been archived by the British Library.

Yes 2 Wind
This organisation promoting wind power has various resources, including an interesting news page to keep you up to date on the latest developments.

Action for Renewables
Featuring a comprehensive wind farm locator for the UK which enables you to find wind farms in development if you’re interested in supporting a wind farm project.

I Love Windpower
Inspiring organisation that develops open-source wind power projects in developing countries. Their news page provides absorbing reading about their work.