Alternative Technology


Richard Bell's Wild West Yorkshire nature diary, Thursday, 20th September, 2007, Wales

EVERY TOWN should have a Centre for Alternative Technology but really, 30 years after CAT started its work here near Machynlleth, the sustainable technology that they promote and develop shouldn’t seem so ‘alternative’ any more. A lot of the practices – such as recycling and gardening using organic methods - which seemed rather idealistic when we last visited about 20 years ago are now a part of everyday life.

You reach the centre via a water-balanced cliff railway, arriving in a courtyard of timber buildings set amongst ponds, trees and gardens. This small secluded valley set in misty, craggy, wooded hills, was formely a slate quarry, so even the site is an example of recycling. I get the feeling that I’ve arrived at a Buddhist mountain monastery; some of the students and tutors remind me of novice monks or wily Zen priests. As in a monastery, they're here because they believe that changing the way we live can make a difference to our world. The elemental basis of the work - drawing on the latent power of water, air and the cycles of nature - makes me feel that this is a 21st century version of our quest for the meaning of life.

It's peaceful, despite the occasional school party and the construction work that is currently in progress to build WISE, The Wales Institute for Sustainable Education. At the wholefood vegetarian restaurant I go for taka dahl while Barbara goes for the vegetable lasagne, which she describes as the best she's ever tasted.

I like the vegetable gardens and composting exhibits here but really I could draw all that at home, so I sit on a low slate wall around a pond and draw the green-roofed building (above, left) which I’m told is the staff dining room. Apparently it was once an exhibit at the Ideal Homes Exhibition and it would have been scrapped after the show if someone from CAT hadn’t spotted it and realised that it could be rebuilt here. It’s been modified quite a bit since then.