CAT celebrates the next generation of graduates ‘making it happen’

Graduates from the Centre for Alternative Technology celebrate their academic successes at ceremony.

CAT Graduation
CAT’s CEO Adrian Ramsay addresses Graduates and their families in the rammed earth lecture theatre

Over 40 students from the Graduate School of the Environment at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Machynlleth celebrated the successful completion of their studies with an award ceremony on Saturday 14th November.

The evening also included a buffet dinner, a welcome from CAT’s chief executive Adrian Ramsay and a keynote speech by Professor Herbert Girardet, leading environmental commentator and author of several books including the seminal “Blueprint for a Green Planet” (1987) and “Creating Regenerative Cities” (2014).

class of 2015
The class of 2015 – CAT Graduation

The event saw students graduate from all of CAT’s postgraduate programmes: MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment, Professional Diploma in Architecture, MSc Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies and MSc Sustainability and Adaptation.

Adrian Ramsay, CEO of CAT, said they were the people who would be ‘making it happen’ in the transition to a zero carbon future:

“The world faces many challenges in the transition to a zero carbon future. The knowledge and skills that our graduates learn by studying at the Graduate School for the Environment equip them well to be the people making it happen. We are very proud of this year’s CAT graduates and look forward to hearing about their successes as they take the knowledge gained from their time at CAT into their careers, communities and home lives.”

Five students received particular awards for excellence in their dissertations. Helen Nicholls received an award for her dissertation comparing the impact of different waste water treatment systems on climate change. Lee Eyre received an award for his research into the role of metaphor in the world views of environmentalists. Elgan Roberts’ award-winning study looked at the greenhouse gas emissions from small scale hydroelectric schemes in Wales. Anne-Clare Landolt received an award for her dissertation on storing heat to improve greenhouse growing conditions. Lucy Jones also received an award for her technical report on a more sustainable alternative to supermarkets.

graduation buffet
CAT congratulates the class of 2015 with a buffet dinner

This year’s graduates join over one thousand people who have graduated from CAT’s postgraduate courses and are working for sustainability in their work and communities across the UK and around the world. CAT graduates have taken their skills to many professions which need expertise in sustainability and many companies have been set up by CAT graduates, bringing innovative solutions to environmental problems.

Photographs by Eveleigh Photography

graduation bar
Celebrating in the bar after the ceremony

The sun shines on Mynydd Gorddu Windfarm.

The sun shines on Mynydd Gorddu Windfarm.

 

A REBE trip to Myn ydd Gorddu Windfarm.
A REBE trip to Myn ydd Gorddu Windfarm.

 

Yesterday the REBE (Renewable Energy and the Built Environment) students were taken to visit Mynydd Gorddu Wind Farm located near Tal-y-bont, Ceredigion, West Wales and given a tour by the site manager. As a media volunteer I get to document all the interesting excursions students make, and so I thanked the weather gods for a sunny day, pulled on my long johns and packed my camera. After bumpy ride down narrow roads on the local coach, we arrived and were greeted by the sites operational manager, a sharp man in his forties. With the sun on our backs, we huddled round like penguins as he explain how this wind farm, which has been successfully running for nearly 20 years was started.

 

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Developed initially by Trydan Gwynt Cyfyngedig in 1997 – a company owned by a local family, Dr Dafydd Huws and Mrs Rhian Huws, npower renewables was involved in the early stages but in 1993 ceased to be involved with the project. Beaufort wind Limited are listed as the owner now, RWE Innogy as the operator. Dr Dafydd Huws had been inspired by the turbines at CAT and later through visits to Denmark where the technology has been developed further. In 1997 however, npower renewables agreed to assume responsibility for the financing and construction of the wind farm. Trydan Gwynt Cyfyngedig became a co-operative venture between npower renewables, now called RWE Innogy and the Huws family company, Amgen, the welsh for “positive change”. Dr Huws and his company Amgen continue to have, a leading role in the development of the wind farm and its operation.

 

By all accounts this wind farm was remarkably successful, with a good track record of fulfilling its potential, but like all machines they do need maintenance.It was interesting to hear direct from the horses mouth what its like to manage a site such as this, what kind of decisions you have to make when lightening strikes and melts the conductors. Calling crane companies and having to pay them double so they can come lift off the hub and propellers the next day, and get the turbine back in action as quick as possible. These kind of quick financial calculations, mixed in with practical monitoring and maintenance are all part of a days work for a wind farm operational site manager.

 

 

The site was awarded European grant of £1.3m to trial four different types of turbine but today there stands 19 turbines, with two different diameters, as the planning authorities weren’t so happy with the idea of too many different machines scattered across the hills. The planners also ensured that the sub-station, where the electricity is sent into the grid and where the turbines are monitored (with P.C’s STILL running from 1995, a little fact to amaze the techo- heads) is built in a true vernacular style, with stone walls, wooden doors and iron detailing.

 

Myn ydd Gorddu Windfarm
Myn ydd Gorddu Windfarm

 

If you are interested in the performance of these medium sized wind turbines then you may be interested in the following; 7 of the turbines are each rated at 600 kilo Watts with a hub height of 34 metres  and a rotor diameter of 43m. The other 12 are rated at 500kW each with a hub height of 35m and rotor diameter of 41m. The rotors on both turbine sizes turn at an approximate speed of 30 revolutions per minute (rpm), driving a gearbox within the nacelle which is in turn connected to a generator. The turbines start to generate electricity automatically when the wind speed reaches around 11 miles per hour (mph), and achieve maximum output at around 33 mph. They shut down when the wind speed exceeds 56 mph, which is rare. The farm has a combined maximum output of 10.2 megawatts.

 

IMG_9818IMG_9834REBE Students taken notes about the Mynydd Gorddu windfarm.

I have no pretentions of being an engineer, and so many of these technical details the REBE students were avidly scribbling down passed me by and I tuned into the gentle sound of the blades swooshing above me in the cold winter wind and their majestic white silhouettes cutting into the crisp blue sky, a symbol to me of beauty and hope. I was also noticing the red kites sailing high in the sky, the fresh strong blast of cold wind whipping around my ears and noticed a suprising birds nest above one of the windmills doors at the base.

I am interested in the politics and people behind these endeavours and was intrigued to hear how carefully Dr Dafydd Huws tried to maximize the returns to the community by ensuring the windfarm infrastructure spread across more than one owners land. There is a fund, “Cronfa Eleri” that’s administered by Amgen, who have set up the Cronfra Eleri Advisory Committee, ensuring that people who understand the needs of the community decide how the money is spent to provide the widest community benefit. The fund yields about £10,00 a year and in 2011 the fund helped buy a new heating system for a community centre in Ysgoldy Bethlehem, Llandre, a new shed for the local Talybont nursery,  the re-wiring and renovation of the local church in Bontgoch, and towards a new tennis court in conjunction with the Playingfield Society Rhydypennau.

 

the wind blows us back to

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As we wandered back to the coach, we waved good-bye to the beautiful bullocks, (the wind farm was fully integrated with the traditional farming practices of the area, with sheep and cows grazing beneath the turbines) and all looked forward to a delicious lunch awaiting us at CAT. The electricity from the farm traced our steps, passing along a cables supported by wooden poles from Bow street to Machynlleth, carrying clean electricity to the local electricity grid network for use in local homes, schools and businesses.  All in all it had been a very successful trip, but lets see what Alexandra King, a REBE student who came too had to say;

 

An interview with REBE student Alexandra King.
An interview with REBE student Alexandra King.

 

Who are you and what do you do when your not studying at CAT?

 

“I’m Alexandra King. I live and work in Bath. My husband is a consulting engineer, I work with him, mainly as a support at the moment, but hope that after finishing this course, I will be more involved in the engineering design.”

 

Why did you decide to study at CAT?

 

“CAT is the obvious choice – to my knowledge it is the best place in the country to study renewables. Why? For a long time now I was a mecologist by choice. I believe in sustainable lifestyle. We’ve installed PVs on our roof as soon as we had a chance. Renewable energy is clean and available everywhere, even in the most remote locations. It will not run out anytime soon, unlike fossil fuels. And if we start making changes now, by the time we do run out of coal and gas, we should have good enough infrastructure to keep us going. I don’t know if we could slow down the climate change, but there is always hope.”

 

What did you learn from the trip to the windfarm?

“I’ve always liked wind turbines, and this visit just reinforced this affection. They are so elegant and not at all noisy. The footprint of a turbine is very small. I love the possibility of the double use of land (cattle or crops), turbines scale easily, the construction time is relatively short, unfortunately so is the lifespan of a wind farm. But I am sure we can overcome this in the future.

One more thing, I’ve visited several wind farms and yet to see a single dead bird, yet, driving home a few days ago, saw 8 corpses on the motorway…  one of them was a badger, I think, but still.”

 

 

How do you find the teaching on the course, and is there anything you would change about your student experience with CAT?

 

“I love CAT, wouldn’t change a thing. Except I wish I’d started earlier, like several years ago, but never mind now. I think this course is well balanced; it will give me a broad understanding of principles and technologies that will be very useful in my future work.”

 

Many thanks Alexandra !

 

 

What is it like starting a new masters degree in renewable energy?

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Toby Whiting, domestic energy assessor and new student on the MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment course at CAT reports on his introductory week. 

Looking back on the introductory half of the first module there has been a lot to take in! Meeting lecturers and other students on the course was re-assuring and surprising; the lecturers all have good levels of knowledge and practical experience (I have paid for some courses in the past where the trainers taught from a book and didn’t know the subject), whilst the students have come from a broad range of occupations and disciplines such as finance, engineering and teaching.

So far the course has laid the ground work with lectures explaining the current energy and policy status of the UK and covered global environmental issues and equipped us with the tools to learn; access to on-line research resources and essay writing lectures to name but a few (this is essential for me as I left college 25 years ago). A lot is packed into a day, with teaching finishing at around 8pm, then time flies as we sit in the evenings and discuss the thought inspiring lectures (often intermingled with anecdotes and drinks from the bar). I’ve been impressed with the lecturer/student ratio, there is always someone to ask if I missed something in a practical session. Saturday night sees an earlier finish at 6pm (this time following a seminar with our tutor which helps to demonstrate the type of work that is expected from us) after which some of us ventured into Machynlleth to find that the pubs are good and the locals are friendly. Sunday is a short day with two lectures and a packed lunch to see us on our way. I depart for a 6 hour train journey back to Southampton and feel pleased that my fears were unfounded; I have made the right choice, now I just need to write that essay and prepare my presentation for the second part of the module… That attendance covers the physics of energy use in buildings (closely related to my work), energy efficiency and an introduction to heat pumps.

 

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The sun rises over CAT; one of the great views when the weather allows

Toby works as a consultant on domestic new-build housing, carrying out SAP (CO2) and Code for Sustainable Homes assessments along the South coast. He came to CAT because he wanted to challenge the answers that assessment tools give and he feels that a ‘hands on’ approach to investigating current technologies would be more useful.

Meet the Renewable Energy and the Built Environment students….

REBE Student Interview

MEET the new REBE’s ! (Renewable Energy in the Built Environment) Students…

Dashing between lectures, I managed to catch a quick word with some of the people studying on the MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment masters at CAT. Who are they, why did they come and what do they want?

Charming and professional it seemed like they were in thinking mode and it was only by the skin on my teeth that I (a media and marketing volunteer) managed to meet these lovely people on a mission. Lets hear what they had to say…

REBE Student Interview
Charlotte

Name: CHARLOTTE NORTON.

What motivated you to do this MSc?

“I wanted to learn more about different renewable energy technologies, and so this seemed the right course for me. A colleague of mine did the course a few years ago and really enjoyed it. I came up to look around a couple of times and was really impressed by the enthusiasm and commitment from staff”

What were you doing before you came?

“Well I did and still do work full time for  a medium sized wind turbine consultancy in Swansea, called Seren Energy”.

What do you feel you are getting from the course?

“I am getting hands on practical skills and knowledge from people who work in the industry”.

What has the most interesting thing that you’ve learnt about since doing the course?

“Everything, All of it! Its too hard to choose as everything has been very relevant and interesting”.

How do you find the course structure/ teaching?

“Brilliant! But intense… Its a lot of work since I am working full time”.

 

REBE MSc student and Electrical Design Consultant for Atkins.
Nick

Name: NICK STOLFA. 

Occupation: REBE MSc student and Electrical Design Consultant for Atkins.

What motivated you to come on the course?

“I wanted to continue progressing in this field, following completion of an undergraduate degree in renewable energy. More specifically, I felt the practical aspects of the REBE course would help to solidify my academic knowledge”.

What do you feel you are getting from the course?

“Practical experience combined with new academic knowledge; it’s really interesting learning from people who not only teach, but also work within the renewable energy industry. They know their stuff!”

What is the most interesting thing you have learnt about so far?

“Learning about Passivhaus was especially interesting, with the practical we did in the self-build really bringing the concepts to life”.

What do you hope to do with your MSc after the course?

“I intend to apply for profession registration with the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET). Following this I would ideally like to complete a doctorate, hopefully based on the dissertation I do as part this MSc”.

How do you find the course structure/ teaching?

“The first week was a bit of a shock, as its quite an intensive schedule, but I have got used to it now. The teaching is of a high standard and I certainly feel I’m getting my moneys worth!”

Would you’d change anything?

“I wouldn’t mind a bit more time to recap on lecture notes, as there really is a lot to take in. So maybe an additional free period would be helpful”.

 

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.

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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.

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:

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.

A week learning about sustainable living services

Last week I arrived at CAT for my six month volunteer placement. I immediately went along to the Sustainable Building Services module, part of  the AEES Masters at CAT, but it is also offered as a Short Course. The course offers a theoretical look at how we can save energy, use it wisely and build/retrofit buildings by appropriately managing their ventilation and water systems.

~Day 1 ~

Frances Hill, the module leader, started with ventilation techniques showing innovative ways to control aeration such as indoor fountains. Following this, Tom Baker’s lecture showed the degrading impacts of chemicals used in industry that create contaminated land. After lunch the in-depth solar water heating lecture by Arthur Butler presented the idea that, in some cases, being more efficient can be a waste of time and energy as the pay-backs are incredibly lengthy and often work best in hotter environments.

~Day 2~

We started the day again with a lecture by Frances Hill. This time, on cooling buildings by understanding climatic variations such as humidity. Tom Baker’s lecture on precipitation and flooding solutions such as SUDS (Sustainable Urban Design Strategies) shed light on the flooding problems the UK will be facing in years to come due to climate change. There was much laughter during Louise Halestrap’s lecture on sewage treatment, as we learnt that composting is the solution in more rural areas to our stinky problems, yet finding viable solutions in an urban context is much more challenging.

CAT students before the practical

~Day 3~

All students began the wet morning with a choice of practicals: some in Machynlleth, but most onsite. My choice of ‘compost toilets and clean water systems’ with Louise Halestrap began with a walk to the top reservoir at CAT. We tested the water’s turbidity – its clarity – to determine how many particulates are floating around. We examined all the different types of systems used at CAT, such as UV filters, ceramic filters and more natural systems including vertical and horizontal reed-beds. Some techniques were better than others: the dual-chamber compost toilets came out as being the least energy intensive. In the evening, a tour of sedum roofs and other ‘living roofs’ on site showed us their simplicity and it has inspired me to one day make my own.

Compost toilet onsite using worms to breakdown organic matter.

~Day 4~

The last day of lectures started with Ben Abel talking about clean air architecture in the context of tall buildings (e.g. the ‘Gherkin’ in London). Mentioned was the use of ‘green-washing’ by businesses, occasions when ‘green’ designs are used as a marketing tool rather than being truly sustainable. After lunch it was up to the WISE roof with Tobi to follow the sun’s path to determine the best position for solar panels (information here on data so you can plan your own).

In the evening there was a truly inspiring lecture by Jonathan Essex from Bioregional examining sustainable approaches to construction waste by looking at the behavioural changes possible in the production chain. Personally this was the most stimulating lecture, urging students to start with re-using rather than recycling, to deconstruct old buildings and reconstruct with them same materials to create vibrant and beautiful places.

Students dressed as the seven dwarfs for the Pantomine
Students dressed as the seven dwarfs for the Pantomine

To finish the week a fairytale pantomime was held in the evening to celebrate and give thanks to all the lectures, speakers, staff and students. Titles for the plays included ‘Snowdonia and the Seven Dorks’ (the CAT lecturers) and ‘The Princess and Her Pee’.

All in all the week was riveting. The combination of lectures, seminars, practicals and social tea-breaks allowed us to mingle and exchange ideas. Last week, being the first week of my six month stay here in CAT, has been the warmest welcome I could imagine.

Student Post: Planning for Real on the Prof Dip

We’ve asked some of our current students to write a short blog post about their studies after each module. You can see all of our student blogs here. Over the next year or so Rachel, a former long-term volunteer at CAT, will share her experiences on the Part II Architecture course.

In my last blog, I wrote about the beginning of our first project on the Professional Diploma: to create a vision for the future of the CAT site. We spent the September module forming our own impressions of the site and working on our ideas for how we felt the site could be developed.

Coming back in October for the next module, it was time to open the floor to the CAT community. In the lead up to the module, an invitation was sent out to CAT staff for a ‘Planning for Real’ exercise in the Straw Bale Theatre on the Friday afternoon of our module – a chance for us to meet the people who work at CAT and listen to their ideas. Arriving at the beginning of the week, this gave us a short deadline to get ready.

The centrepiece of the Planning for Real exercise was an enormous 1:200 scale model of the entire CAT site; a prop which would help in this discussion, and give us a chance to express our own ideas at the end of the project. In the weeks we were away from CAT, we had all worked individually on parts of the model (buildings, trees and the model base), but it became very clear at the beginning of the module that we still had a lot of work to do if we wanted the model finished by the end of the week!

Early days in the construction of the model

So we split up into groups and set about turning the bare bones of our model into something we could present to the CAT community. Some people worked on the buildings, modelling any that we had missed in our initial survey of the site, while others cut out the model base and used cork to recreate the dramatic landscape that surrounds CAT. A team was sent out to collect small bits of trees and twigs to represent the vegetation of the site, and add to the work that was being done to define some of the existing paths and areas of greenery that populate the area.

In between all of this, of course, we still had lectures to attend! This module the lectures focused on some aspects of building physics: heat transfer in buildings, thermal comfort and thermal mass being the main topics. The highlight of this month’s lectures, of course, was the sauna practical; a short stint in the sauna followed by a brief swim in the lake really helped to illustrate some of the basics of thermal comfort!

Adding the ‘greenery’

Finally, the week came to a close with the ‘Planning for Real’ exercise. We only just finished the model in time: even as people started arriving, we were still drilling holes for trees! Still, the afternoon was a success – we had a fantastic turnout, with an enthusiastic response to our questions about the future of the site. Everyone wanted their say, and we gathered a huge range of ideas and opinions during the afternoon from all the people who came.

Now it’s time to put those ideas down on paper…

The completed model

Student Blog: the first week on the Prof Dip

We’ve asked some of our current students to write a short blog post about their studies after each module. You can see all of our student blogs here. Over the next year or so Rachel, a former long-term volunteer at CAT, will share her experiences on the Part II Architecture course.

Last month I started the Professional Diploma in Architecture course at CAT. It’s a very different approach to the study of Architecture, one I’m really looking forward to!

The first week was an introduction to the realities of climate change, one that will really set the context for our studies over the next year and a half. To start the week, we were plunged in at deep end with Ranyl Rhydwen’s lecture on environmental change – an interesting summary of the science behind climate change and the urgent need for immediate action. Having worked with Ranyl for six months before the start of the course, I was already familiar with some of the topics he covered, but it was still daunting to see the scale of the challenge we face! His adaptation and transformation lecture later in the week gave us a slightly more optimistic look at the future.

Our other lecturers looked at different aspects of climate change and sustainability: Tom Barker introduced us to the importance of biodiversity and the need to protect and encourage it; Adam Tyler summarised the current energy situation – how much we use, and where it comes from. We also heard about CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain project from Tobi Kellner: a scenario where Britain could rapidly decarbonise and be run entirely on renewable energy. Finally, Tim Coleridge’s lecture near the end of the week talked about the role of the construction industry, and the need to adapt the built environment for future climate conditions.

The week wasn’t all lectures, however, as we also began our first studio project! We have been tasked with producing a master plan for the future of the CAT, a possible vision of what the site could be in the next five, ten or twenty years – working alongside members of the community here and building upon strategies that already exist.

Sketch by Kirsty Cassels

As most people were new to CAT, our first job was to get to know the site (or, in my case, get to know it better). So, sketchbooks and cameras in hand, we set out to explore. For two days we wandered the site collecting information, drawing and photographing the things that caught our eye, talking to members of staff and visitors and reading up on the history of the site. Even having already worked at CAT for some time, I was able to really get involved and learn new things about this fascinating place.

Later, as we collated our notes and sketches, the issues and problems we wanted to tackle quickly became apparent – as did the potential opportunities. We set about preparing some initial strategies and proposals (gaining some insight into designing by consensus along the way), and discussed how we were going to involve the CAT community in our project.

Next month, we will start the consultation with CAT members of staff and ask them what it is they want for the site in the future. We’ve done our groundwork – let’s see where it goes from there!