CAT is 40, CAT being the Centre for Alternative Technology. Last year the BBC interviewed some of the earliest members in the Radio 4 programme “The Reunion”. Started by aristocrat Gerard Morgan-Grenville in 1973 its now Europe’s premier eco centre and attracts around 65,000 visitors a year. I went with the Scouts in 1976. In those days it was a few hippy types in a bare quarry standing around a wind turbine with blades made of sails and a single solar hot water panel. Nevertheless I was impressed and so were our Scout leaders. Even my grandparents went to visit and came away with surprisingly positive comments.
On the “The Reunion” the former members of the community remembered a pretty grime time. Very primitive living conditions without proper sanitation and roofs with mice running around everywhere. The locals had a pretty low opinion of the place too. When people turned up wanting advice they thought perhaps they had better open it up to visitors, which was pretty difficult at first. They also brought out a report on a sustainable UK which is amazingly accurate considering its age. They have published two more recent ones called Zerocarbonbritain which we have mentioned in our book.
I returned in 2005 for a course and found the place transformed as you see from these pictures I took when I returned with my family twice when we were on holiday nearby in Wales. The quarry is a wonderful garden with lots of educational exhibits on all aspects of greenliving and energy for all ages.
What can the fact that CAT is 40 teach us? The people interviewed I thought were surprisingly modest about their achievements. Most of what seemed weird and experimental then seems mainstream now. Recycling has mushroomed. From no on grid wind there is 320GWp worldwide, solar PV has gone from astronomically expensive to just over £1/watt with 130GWp installed worldwide. There are as the programme covered many challenges left for CAT over its next 40 years. Our fossil fuel dependency has not dropped and global temperatures continue to rise inexorably. Visit it and get inspired.