At a time when there is an ever mounting corporate fossil fuel and Right wing offensive against any possibility of a Net Zero or a Just Transition, the closure of the Centre for Alternative Technology, near Machynlleth in Wales, which pioneered practical green solutions, is a major setback. This article, written by Ken Moon, provides a personal response and was first posted by The Canary.


I was very disappointed to hear Wales’ foremost net zero pioneers, the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), is to close its doors to day visitors due to the challenging economic climate; deeply ironic given that our economic climate is why CAT exists.

CAT: more than just a visitor experience

For many of us working towards net zero, CAT was the first place we’d visited, seen, touched, and smelled that proved net zero was more than just a theory. That it was something which could be achieved in practice. I’ll be honest though, as inspiring as the place undoubtedly is I only ever visited as a day tripper once or twice.

I know I’m not the only one who is disappointed by CAT’s closure. Ian Carl Dodd, Green Retrofit Coordinator, said:

CAT changed my life! I remember a visit with my young son and the fascinating, engaging day tour. Even the OMG of a composting toilet! He was then 9 years old. How much he absorbed about the essential meaning of the place even then

CAT’s location tends to mean that, unless you’re an eco-geek, once visited you’re unlikely to go out of your way to visit again. CATs visitor experience is part of the regional offer for the casual holiday maker who happens to be in the area. It has always been CATs educational offering which has been its’ core strength for eco-geeks like me.

But, and this is the crucial point, it is the day tripper experience which opens most people’s awareness not only to what is possible, but to what is practical. The visitor experience is the entry level drug for the net zero addict. Following my first casual visit, a friend introduced me on our way somewhere else, I was hooked and wanted more!

Setting people on life-changing paths

As a student activist at Swansea University I went on to organise an educational visit and soon had a full list of eager students. What struck me most at the time was that many who signed up were not already part of our environment soc. There’s something about the positive vision CAT offers that reaches people other places do not.

Some of the people who came on that first visit have since told me that it changed the course of their lives. They became renewable energy pioneers and sustainable construction specialists and many other things besides because of that visit to CAT, the CAT effect. Malcom Edwards went on to become one of Wales leading hedge layers, maintaining an ancient tradition for a sustainable future.

Edwards said:

The Centre for Alternative Technology set me on the route to finding a right livelihood and sustainable land management. I ended up becoming a long-term volunteer there in the gardens and working on sustainable construction as a labourer. I learnt so much and made lifelong friends to. All down to that one mini-bus trip.

That first trip was so popular, and had such an impact on those who went, that we did it all again, with a bigger minibus the following year! And there are so many others whose lives have been impacted by a single day visit to CAT.

On those educational residential visits, I made many firm friends, who I’m still in touch with almost 30 years later. Since then, I’ve visited many times for events, conferences and as a mentor with Renew Wales & Egin. Thankfully this core part of what CAT is and does so exceptionally well, as well as CATs pioneering work on Zero Carbon Britain, will continue.

And of course, many other people have been inspired by CAT’s educational courses.

Providing inspiration

Patricia Xavier, New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering Acting Academic Director, said:

I visited as a student as part of a trip we organised with the Cardiff University branch of Engineers Without Borders UK in the early 2000s. The creativity and vision embodied there stayed with me. CAT made a sustainable future seem possible to me. They integrate tech developments while also being philosophically aligned to sustainable attitudes in life and work.

In the last years I’ve taken several groups of students there, hopefully to continue to plant the same seeds of inspiration I received. I’m glad that the group visits are continuing, but worried that this pioneering place that foresaw the solar and wind energy revolution has had to take this step of stopping other visits. It’s unlike anywhere else in the UK.



also see:

Environmental degradation and sustainable development – EL&SD coverage