So, the CAT is 40 years old!

Cretan-windmillJim Perrin, one of the UK’s leading outdoor essayists, wrote in Environment Now (and included in his Yes, to Dance, Essays from Outside the Stockade collection) of impressions from an early visit to Centre for Alternative Technology and interviews with early managers, Gerard Morgan-Grenville, Bod Todd, Tim Brown and others, highlighting some of the issues that are still hot debate topics now as then:

“constant points of reference are an awareness of whether fuel sources are renewable or exhaustible, whether the effects on the environment are benign or prejudicial”

“Scatological instincts find plenty to amuse us amongst the composts and manures and watering cans labelled pee … inviting contribution for composting. (As Prince Charles did on his 1978 visit) And in the same male toilet there are also baby changing facilities … “

Perrin describes the prejudice CAT had to face at the time … “Communists, thats what they are and Hippies, and Vegans, making a fortune from visitors, all on social security …”

Roger Harrabin, writing in the Guardian today (01 August 2014), picks up on the same hippy stereotype:

‘Hippies in a slate quarry in Wales are celebrating four decades of green revolution this weekend, having transformed the character of a local town, pioneered new energy technologies and constructed a water-powered railway’

But, as Harrabin rightly points out that whilst many of the Centre’s alternative technologies are no longer considered alternative, “the centre’s original aim to democratise technology remains unfulfilled, and there is a realisation that its mission is far from complete. Its radical recipes for achieving a zero-carbon Britain remain unpalatable to politicians and the public” 

See Zero Carbon Britain at 

I first visited CAT in the mid/late 70’s (before the water powered cable car was installed) with a head full of west coast rock, (welsh rockers Man in particular), probably on a wet day as part of the then regular climbing trips to Mid and North Wales. Maybe looking for alternatives to my career which had just changed from Quantity Surveying to Site Engineering. Or looking for a UK equivalent to the Whole Earth Catalogue, and trying to understand Stay Hungry and Foolish.

As it happened it didn’t change my career, then, but planted seeds to later incorporate alternative approaches into my construction thinking, in what would later become ‘sustainability’, mainstream in construction and become a huge part of my now independent career and enable me to continue challenging.

So Happy Birthday CAT – and as Jim Perrin wrote:

“Go to the Centre for Alternative Technology, Go for a day. Go for a weekend or a weeks course… Go and soak up the ambiance of a lovely place. Go and acquaint yourself with a more than normally altruism intelligent and gentle community of people”

Image: Centre for Alternative Technology Blog: