“In such seclusion, so far from the pressures under which most people live, I had the feeling that something new, some fresh and saner way of living might be demonstrated” (Gerard Morgan-Grenville 1931-2009).
Located in a 100-year-old disused slate quarry in the beautiful Mid Wales biosphere, the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) is today a world-leading eco-centre and education hub that researches and supports greener ways of living. It was founded in 1973 by the late Gerard Morgan-Grenville a 40-year-old serial entrepreneur who had run a business converting and renting out barges for luxury holidays in France, and railway carriages in Britain and Russia. He decided to set up the Centre as a place “where people, ordinary passers-by, might readily perceive the disastrous course on which our civilisation was set and be shown things they, anyone, might do to reduce their impact on the environment”. He got the idea from his mother “who had long preached the need for humanity to live within the finite resources of planet earth”. The only problem was he had no place to put it, no staff and no funds. However, once the quarry was found, he obtained a £20,000 donation from his half-brother, a farmer in Kenya, and volunteers started to arrive and help him transform the mud-filled quarry with its derelict buildings into beautiful gardens, sustainably managed woodlands, ponds and experimental green buildings that now attract some 70,000 visitors a year. To create the gardens they had to compost the soil, the woodlands and wildlife habitats had to be created by planting trees and shrubs while the experimental green buildings involved both the refurbishment of the existing on-site property and the addition of a range of new buildings using innovative low carbon building material. As the centre was off-grid they had to generate their own heat and electricity, which involved experimenting with solar, water and wind power, as well as biomass boilers.
In 1982, Dulas Engineering Ltd was launched at the Centre with the objective of using renewable energy to help “the poorest of the poor” in the developing countries of the world. While raising the finance to grow the business was the biggest problem the venture faced, its greatest asset was, and is, the shared commitment of its70+ employees, all of whom are shareholders in the business. Accordingly, over the past 40 years, it has pioneered the innovative use of solar, hydro and wind renewable energy in the U.K. and globally and is particularly famous for its development of the world’s first solar-powered vaccine refrigerators for the safe storage of both vaccines and blood in rural areas. In August 2022 the business obtained a £600,000 package of support from HSBC to scale up the development of the refrigerator to satisfy increased demand resulting from a UN campaign to increase the number of vaccinated people in low-income countries. As a result, the firm expects to double its year-on-year orders for its fridges and, as their Managing Director Ruth Chapman acknowledges, “this funding will allow us to navigate potential supply chain challenges to ensure delivery without delay”.
In addition, according to Warren Lewis, Head of Corporate Banking Wales for HSBC, “Dulas is a stalwart of the Welsh and UK renewables industry, doing important work to help deliver shared net zero ambitions…”.
From the outset, the CAT has had an educational mission and in addition to offering weekend and weeklong courses for adults, in 2007 it launched its Graduate School of the Environment, while in 2010 it opened the award-winning WISE (Wales Institute for Sustainable Education) state of the art education and conference centre, the home of the School’s postgraduate programmes. In 2017, 2 new Masters courses were introduced in “Sustainable Food and Natural Resources” and “Sustainability in Energy Provision and Demand Management”, while in 2018 more postgraduate degree programmes were announced in “Behaviour Change for Sustainability”, “Green Building” and “Sustainability and Ecology”. Both Dulas Ltd and the CAT are very much Harmonious Enterprises that address the UNs SDGs 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), 8 (Decent Work and Economic Goals), 9 (Industry Innovation and Infrastructure), 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), 13 (Climate Action), 15 (Life on Land), 3 (Good Health and Well-being) and 4 (Quality Education).
Centre for Alternative Technology Visitor Centre
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Great to see CAT still here after some turbulent times but their commitment to sustainability was never in doubt. In the very early days there were many questions about how they could survive but they have and with their comprehensive educational opportunities, sharing their vision and innovation, a new generation of committed people will cascade their learning. Moreover, with the rolling out of the Economic Growth Plan for Mid-Wales, it will enable provide CAT with the resources to fulfil their commitment to renewable energy.
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