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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Friday, June 18, 2004
    Good to see CAT still purring
    Twelve hours on the road; not the most direct route. I was tempted to return to Glastonbury on my way home today - I'd veered off the M5 on my way down for a quick visit, but it was wet and uneventful and I didn't stay long. But instead I decided to return via the Glastonbury of Wales - Machynlleth, a place which has for many years attracted those seeking an 'alternative' lifestyle, a place with its own Arthurian legends alongside the myths and truthful history of 15th century insurrectionist Owain Glyndwr, a vibrant place in the heart of green mid-Wales.

    I went that way home because I wanted to see how they were doing at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT). A place I've visited quite often over the years, but not for a little while. I thought it'd be interesting to spend a little time there comparing and contrasting the work of CAT with The Eden Project.

    They've been going thirty years to Eden's eight; their concern is with "the search for globally sustainable, whole and ecologically sound technologies and ways of life", and they are hands-on about it. Over the years they have pioneered the use of solar energy, wind power, sustainable housing etc. They've some similarities with Eden: the visionary thing (from the start CAT was an experiment in community, a group of people living together trying to work out how to apply their principles in the minutae of daily life), the earth thing (reverence for life and an awareness of our place in the interrelatedness of things), the educational mission to share their enthusiasms and findings with others. Another thing too - just like The Eden Project they've also transformed a dead quarry into a living, breathing centre of creativity and wonder.

    Differences - CAT began from the alternative grassroots, while The Eden Project was from the outset tied in with big business and big government; one's based in technology whereas the other's based in botany; I'm guessing CAT might be comfortable with being seen as 'political' or 'campaigning' whereas Eden pretends it's not. Twenty-five years after the first wind turbines went in at the top of their site, CAT's work is at last being replicated in the mainstream - in the case of windfarms, on a massive scale. Eden's work has begun in the mainstream - it'll be fascinating to see where it leads.

    One day I'm sure there will be crossover between these two quite different projects which nevertheless share common concerns. Eden has the profile to awaken and excite many people about ecological issues, and CAT's developed the tools to educate and supply people with the means to live more lightly on the earth. It's good to see the Centre for Alternative Technology is still growing, with plans for a bold new Education Centre for 2006. And, weary with weaving through the lanes of Wales at 60mph on my gas-guzzling drive north, it was good to take time out for a gentle ride on their water-powered cliff railway: if you've not been, it's worth the trip even just for that experience alone.