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Providing hope for the future for 50 years

Providing hope for the future for 50 years

Home » Providing hope for the future for 50 years

As CAT celebrates the big 5-0, it’s time to look back at five decades of inspiring practical environmental action and celebrate the impact we’ve made together.

As ever, our focus remains on working towards a safer, fairer, more sustainable tomorrow. So this milestone birthday is also an excellent opportunity to look forward to the next chapter of our story.

CAT’s story is one of hope.

Not blind faith in a better tomorrow. But hope built on hard graft, lived experience and rigorous research.

Since day one, we’ve been putting to the test our ideas of how to live more sustainably, in harmony with the natural world we’re all part of. From 1973 to 2023, our home in Mid Wales has evolved from a community of environmental pioneers with a shared vision to an established educational charity making an impact far and wide. All the while, we’ve been getting our hands dirty and taking practical steps to help change society for the better.

CAT aerial view
Then and now: today the CAT site is a lush green oasis with an incredible variety of wildlife
CAT site in the early 1970s
The disused quarry site in the early 1970s

From pioneer testbed to visitor centre

“What was needed was a project to show the nature of the problem and indicate ways of going forward.” CAT founder, Gerard Morgan-Grenville

In the 1970s, awareness was growing of the negative impact humans were having on the planet. As books such as EF Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful (1973) and the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth (1972) were reaching a wide audience, the urgency of the need to act was becoming more and more apparent.

Inspired by alternative communities in the USA and motivated by a growing concern about the environmental impact of fossil fuels, CAT was created. The seeds were sown by a small group of engineers, architects, builders and growers, who wanted to find a way to live simply but well, crucially while treading more lightly on the earth.

These pioneers moved into the abandoned slate quarry and set about experimenting in everything from renewable energy generation to organic farming – ‘alternative’ approaches that are now considered mainstream.

As word spread about what was happening in the mountains of Mid Wales, more and more people wanted to see it for themselves. The CAT visitor centre opened in 1975 to showcase the technologies and choices behind a more sustainable society, sharing the vision of our founders with many more people.

old photo of an experimental wind turbine at CAT
Early experiments in wind power – at the time viewed as a ‘fringe’ technology.

Transforming CAT’s home

After 50 years of hard work by dedicated staff and volunteers, and support from thousands of people all over the world, the CAT site is unrecognisable today.

The post-industrial wasteland we inherited is now a thriving wildlife haven, with a rich variety of gardens, woodlands and ponds. The abandoned buildings on it have been refurbished and joined by ground-breaking new green buildings, where visitors and students discover, study and rest.

None of it came easy. From the beginning, the people living and working at CAT were making soil to grow food, restoring and constructing buildings with little or no long-term impact on the area, engineering renewable energy systems to replace the need for fossil fuels, and managing the surrounding woodlands so endangered species could share their home.

This hard work paid off, transforming the local environment and winning CAT accolades and awards along the way for its unique way of doing things differently.

Research and innovation

Asking questions has always been central to the CAT approach. What could a more sustainable future look like? How would we have to change our way of life to achieve this vision? What approaches have worked elsewhere and how could we improve on them?

Over the years, we have experimented with new ways of producing compost and treating waste, innovative low-carbon building materials and methods, various types of renewable heat, and much more. Not all our experiments have been 100% successful, but each has helped us learn and grow.

Many of those who have studied at CAT have gone on to start their own businesses, continuing to innovate and put what they have learned into practice in the wider world. From community energy projects to solar-powered vaccine fridges, the knowledge and networks born at CAT are changing and even saving lives.

Since 2007, our main research focus has been our Zero Carbon Britain project, which provides an end-point vision for how the UK could reach net zero emissions using technology available today. We’ve engaged councils, businesses and community organisations to recognise the barriers to reaching their climate goals and co-create ways to overcome them.

By sharing what we learn together – from our 1977 ‘Alternative Energy Strategy for the UK’ to 2019’s ‘Zero Carbon Britain: Rising to the Climate Emergency’ report, we’ve shown the government and decision makers ways of reducing reliance on fossil fuels and made the case for urgent action.

Education for all ages

For decades, we have welcomed people young and not so young to our visitor centre to learn more about the climate and biodiversity crises and the role they can play to tackle it. Families, school groups and students have been educated and inspired to act on a wide array of topics related to sustainability.

In the 1980s, we added weekend and week-long courses for adults in response to a growing demand for training in renewable energy and sustainable building. This training has put specialist knowledge and skills at the heart of sectors from architecture to construction and made people catalysts for change in their workplaces and communities.

With the need to respond to the climate threat becoming more urgent, we opened our Graduate School of the Environment in 2007 to help professionals and postgraduates get the tools to speed up the transition to a more sustainable society.

To date, more than 2,000 people have studied with us, creating a ripple effect by sharing what they have learned across their networks. Now, every year, we engage tens of thousands of visitors and learners.

Paul Allen on a panel at COP25
Sharing solutions with policymakers – CAT’s Paul Allen (third from right) presents our Zero Carbon Britain research at the UN climate talks

The next chapter

While we’re incredibly proud of our legacy so far, this is no time to rest on our laurels. The climate and biodiversity crises demand immediate action if we are to avoid the worst outcomes.

It’s time to think even bigger.

We have a vision for CAT where many more people visit us, take courses, and are motivated to actively help create a safer future. Together with our supporters, we have made ambitious plans for new spaces for education in sustainable solutions, areas to deliver green skills for the future, and an immersive world-class visitor experience. Using these new facilities, we can educate and inspire people about the importance of closed-loop systems and living our lives as part of the wider natural world.

The tread lightly commitment of our founders will run through all this work. We are committed to redevelop our eco centre in a way that doesn’t just work around nature but is genuinely regenerative, enhancing the diverse wildlife habitats on our doorstep.

This new and improved CAT will be a practical and beautiful example of our values. It is a valuable opportunity to showcase the regenerative approach we promote, influencing other development projects around the globe.

The scale of the challenges we face calls for increased ambition and action. And we’re ready for it.

Women holding a spirit level
Weekend and week-long courses help people to develop new skills in energy, buildings, woodland management, and more

The CAT community

As a charity, our passionate and dedicated supporters are at the heart of everything we’ve achieved over the last 50 years and the success of our future plans.

From the monthly donations that keep us doing what we do to the legacies that help us plan for the future, the support of people like you makes everything possible. We never have, and we never will, take it for granted.

CAT is much more than what goes on at our site in Mid Wales. We are a diverse and widespread community of people from all walks of life who share a vision of a safer, more sustainable world and are motivated to make it a reality.

Thank you for your support so far and for standing with us as we continue our vital work.

To date, more than 2,000 people have studied for a postgraduate degree with CAT (image shows last year’s graduation ceremony).
Children hugging looking through a wind turbine hub

Make a one-off donation

Change the world with us today. Your donation will help share practical solutions and hands-on learning.
Looking across the CAT site

Celebrating CAT at 50, together

Join us this summer as we celebrate the big 5-0 with a day packed full of family-friendly activities, workshops, talks, tours, music and more.
CAT at 50