Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT)

An off-grid community that became a world-leading eco-centre, education hub and testbed for greener technologies.

Immersive educational experiences help visitors of all ages
From its base, CAT inspires people to take action on the climate emergency
CAT's in-person and online training courses offer support

Our story

Catriona Toms, Head of Marketing and External Affairs, Centre for Alternative Technology

The Centre for Alternative Technology is an internationally renowned environmental charity, a world-leading eco centre, and an educational hub for those inspired to build a more sustainable world. From our base in Mid Wales, we provide skills, education, and inspiration to help everyone play a part in addressing the climate and biodiversity crisis.

CAT was born from a vision back in the 1970s, created by a group of volunteer builders, architects and growers who came together to find ways of living without relying on fossil fuels.

What began life as an off-grid community that acted as a testbed for experimenting with alternative types of technology is now recognised as a pioneering organisation led by - and inspiring - environmental change makers.
Today, thanks to a 50-year history of dedicated staff and volunteers, we can share skills and technologies that help build a more sustainable society through a variety of initiatives. These include:

-The CAT visitor centre, where guests learn about everything from working examples of renewable energy and experimental green buildings, to beautiful organic gardens and sustainably managed woodlands.

-The Zero Carbon Britain Hub and Innovation Lab, which turns climate and biodiversity emergency declarations into action. Through the hub, we provide councils, communities and other organisations with the knowledge, confidence and skills to transform complex economic, social and political systems and achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

-CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment, which provides a big-picture, integrated approach to sustainability and the knowledge, skills, inspiration and networks for individuals to make a real difference in their field – helping to bring about the systemic transformational change needed to address the climate crisis.

-Day and short residential courses covering a range of sustainability issues, including renewable energy, environmentally friendly building techniques, ecology, woodland management and organic gardening.

-A free information service through which we offer independent and impartial advice on a wide range of topics relating to sustainability, such as renewable energy, green building and renovation, home energy savings and organic growing.

CAT is now rapidly expanding its activities to help address the urgency of the climate and biodiversity challenge. The development of a new inspirational visitor experience and sustainable skills hub, alongside a new digital engagement programme, will see many more people inspired, informed, and enabled to play a part in creating transformational change, helping build a better future for all.

Underpinning all of this, we have an incredible network of thousands of supporters across the UK and beyond who support our work and are a core part of an inspiring movement for change.

Our advice

It’s important to have clear vision, mission and values. Like many charities, CAT was founded with a vision for a better future, which inspired others to join the cause.

Our approach is experiential – people remember and are impacted more by what they experience, rather than what they read or hear, so if you’re involved in educational work then it’s worth looking at ‘learning by doing’ approaches to really help enable people to create change. CAT has a unique innovative, creative, practical and hands-on teaching pedagogy. CAT’s graduate students are motivated to change the world and our teaching pedagogy provides them with the resources to do that.

Place is important. The Welsh word Cynefin translates into English as ‘habitat’ but means much more than that. A sense of time and place, the deep relationship between people and environment – this is something that’s really important to us. CAT is based in Llwyngwern Quarry, a landscape that was once the scarred remains of the slate mining industry – its rebirth as the home of CAT and the wider sustainability movement is a key part of CAT’s story.

It’s important to empower others on the journey and help to build the skills and knowledge of those around you. In that respect, it’s good to understand your circle of influence in terms of individuals, communities, and organisations. Do some network mapping and you might well be surprised by the potential of your reach. From there, you can build those networks – we all achieve more when we are connected with others.

Our metrics

  • By looking at the number of people we inspire through our work, including those who visit the centre, those who enrol on courses, as well as those who do postgraduate degrees through CAT. We also measure by taking into account the number of partners we support, such as local authorities. For more qualitative analysis, we look at the impact of CAT-inspired case studies where people and organisations have been motivated to change with the skills and knowledge they have learned through the centre.
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