Centre for Alternative Technology

CAT
Britain's major centre for environmental inspiration and courses.

vacancies_small_banner.jpg

Interviews

Read what CAT's Long Term Volunteers have to say:

CAT’s Long Term Volunteers (LTV’s) are vital to the running of the centre. Below are interviews with some of the LTV’s who have been volunteering with us.

Woodland Volunteer

Joe Wogden

My first month as a long term volunteer at C.A.T has been great. Starting at the beginning of March, I was lucky enough to join a week-long sustainable woodland management course on my first day. As a woodlands volunteer, this was a great opportunity to learn about all aspects of woodland management before my hands on volunteering experience began in earnest.

Since the course I have taken part in a range of work – from felling trees and clearing the woodland floor to encourage new growth to repairing the fence on the children's playground, making charcoal, chopping, splitting and storing firewood and learning about the biodiversity in C.A.T's woodland. It has been a pleasure to be outside every day, regardless of the weather. As someone who has a degree in Ecology from many years ago but no practical experience to back it up, I am sure that my 6 months a C.A.T will really put me back in touch with my love for the environment and demonstrate to future employers my commitment to it.

I can see how vital the volunteer program is to C.A.T and how beneficial it is to both the organisation and the volunteers. The volunteers get hands-on experience in a unique collaborative environment with a host of talented people around them, whilst C.A.T is able to get the site in great shape for visitors and move forward with its vision to share its knowledge with the wider world.

With so many interesting things going on and so many facets to C.A.T, whether that's woodlands, gardening, media, education or research, I only wish I had the capacity to learn about it all! I am very grateful for the opportunity to be part of this community and I know how grateful C.A.T is for all the hard work its volunteers put in.

Woodland Volunteer

Gareth Fysh-Foskett

When I arrived in Machynlleth in January, my life was in a state of flux and renewal; having spent most of my twenties living in the stable and serene environment of forest monasteries as a Buddhist monk, I was now re-emerging into a period of travel, adventure, and primarily for me a deepening of livelihood and craft. After graduating in Buddhist Studies from Bristol, my practical work had consisted mostly of maintaining and living in coppiced and newly planted woodland, and I was eager to learn from someone skilled and experienced in methods of doing of sustainably.  The woodland placement seemed ideal, and it has proved an excellent learning experience.

Selecting suitable pieces of wood for making the woodland xylophone The traditional bodger’s shelter
Selecting suitable pieces of wood for making the woodland xylophone
The traditional bodger’s shelter where Ute and Anna, two of CAT’s long term volunteers are busy making woodland craft items. Visitors love to stop by and see what they’re doing!

New skittles set made from cherry wood Our role has been primarily to assist Rob (woodland manager) in maintaining the beautiful woodlands over the road at Coed Gwern, and also to help him in processing the wood, trees and smallholding area on the main site. Initially this involved a lot of heavy physical work, coming out of an extremely wet, mild, and windy winter period, in layering young trees, coppicing and cutting back growing ones, and removing invasive species. During this time I also completed studying and writing up for an OCN qualification in Sustainable Woodland Management, a lot of which was in conjunction and exemplified in the practical work we were doing on site, which I hope will help in future employment situations.

The aspect of the work I’ve enjoyed the most has been Green Woodwork; it has been a wonderful opportunity to develop a beautiful and fairly simple craft that is very integrated with the woodland ecological system and therapeutic at the same time. We have produced a number of products for the shop using a shave horse and pole lathe, including rolling pins, incense holders, candlesticks, and novelty mushrooms!

Courses The green wood xylophoneat CAT have been very informative and practical; I was really fortunate to learn and practice timber frame building, producing a very satisfying sauna structure from scratch in the space of week, the rendering for which we continued during the building materials course later in the spring, in which we had hands on experience of straw bale building, hemp and rammed earth structures, and lime/clay plaster and rendering. It was also a real joy to develop these building skills further with the numerous projects we took on individually and as a group: fashioning a slate pizza oven plinth, building toilets and shelters from decking and pine off cuts, a green wood xylophone and frame, and wooden skittles set. The creative aspect of this role has been most rewarding, and having the time and space to pursue these elements has been a real blessing.

Living in Mach is amazing; it really is the most beautiful and varied little valley you can imagine, with rivers and quarries, lakes, reservoirs, forests and the gorgeous sea and beach all within a short train or bike ride away. We've been very fortunate to explore this area at every opportunity given the summer placement and fine weather, and I hope to continue adventures in the Dyfi valley after my CAT placement finishes, as over the next few summer months I plan to continue apprenticing and volunteering at a local woodland project, working in a local cafe, ad keeping up the green woodwork demonstrations at CAT. Most inspiring has been the incredible community spirit of the area; my advice would be to get stuck in with as much of the vast array of activities and places on offer whilst you are here, but to keep your overall direction firmly in mind, because if you're anything like me you'll probably have more interests than time! Overall, incredibly grateful for this opportunity, and hoping to see and be part of CAT making progressive steps forward in the coming months.

 

Media & Marketing Volunteer

Robyn Lammiman

The media / marketing volunteer role gives a chance to develop a broad range of skills including writing, film making, photography, social media, interviewing, research and marketing skills. Robyn is just coming to the end of her placement, so what has her experience been like?

I’ve been working in the media and marketing department for 5 months and the time has unfortunately come to pass the baton and invite someone new to the team.I started working here around the first of November and its been non-stop go!

I’m from a planning background interested in urban communities and sustainable retrofits with little knowledge of the marketing world, its acronyms and online databases. But after a couple of weeks, there’s no question about it, you become quite addicted into finding out the ‘click-throughs’ and the analytics of the work you’ve posted. At CAT theres never a dull moment, ”a TV crew tomorrow”, ”a conference today”, ”a crazy big storm on the way”, the opportunities are endless and you can work in any medium you like, be it videos, blogs, interviews or photography. Once a week volunteers can help out in another department or work on a personal project (although this isnt strictly monitored). During this time I either jumped in the gardens learning organic gardening from ‘gardening guru’ Roger, or ventured into the woods sawing, carving and weaving with woodland manager Rob.

Me out and about

With Spring pushing through (fingers crossed last year wont repeat) and the smell of summer on its way, CAT is bursting into life, the daffodils are blooming and the visitors centre will soon be reopening. The summer position to work in this department will no doubt be demanding but the pay offs with the in depth knowledge and skills you’ll learn are truly unimaginable.

The biggest benefit to volunteering at CAT is the opportunity get experience working somewhere with 40 years experience at the cutting edge of the environmental movement. Volunteers can also get a free lunch in the CAT restaurant, can claim for travel expenses, can attend two CAT courses (subject to availability) and get a year’s CAT membership for free.

 

 

Water & Natural Resources Volunteer

Chris Moody

Previously:

I studied for an Earth Science MSc in Manchester and before that an Environmental Science BSc in Nottingham. Then I worked for the Environment Agency in the Science department on a research project to do with contaminated land, the pollution of ground water and surface water. We worked a lot with GAS, Graphic All Information systems, that map special data. I saw this voluntary placement as a career change. I wanted to get outdoors, get some hands on work experience as opposed to always being desk based.

Main Responsibilities and Projects:

I mainly work on the woodland side of things, the other biology volunteer works on the water side. Each Monday morning we check the compost and the reed-beds, which is really interesting. Then I either work in the CAT woodland, Coed Gwern, or in the coppicing area on site; clearing bracken; coppicing; sorting products for use such as firewood, charcoal and pea sticks. We are currently surveying the woodland using a GPS to work out the pathways and decide what to do with the different areas depending on the tree species. I also take soil samples for their pH and structure, as different species need different soil types.

CAT Structure:

Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t, it's very different to how I’ve worked before, its relaxed and flexible.

CAT courses:

I did a really good coppicing course instructed by Bob Shaw.

What has inspired me:

I’ve learnt lots of hands on skills from people who are multi skilled rather than just good at reading books. It’s different seasonally, you see everything die off, then you spend time getting things cleared, preparing for spring. I enjoy coppicing -cutting back, till it looks like a bomb has hit it then letting it to grow.

The woodland is a new area for me. I really enjoy working with the land.

Advice:

Make the most of where you are and get involved. Also bring a warm sleeping bag, and learn how to cook veggie food! If you want to see a lot of people you can, or if you like it quite it's nice living on site, there are walks from your door-step and it would be a great place to be in the summer if you are into cycling.

Future plans:

I’ve been using this as a career change to get into conservation that is hard without experience. I’d like to be able to grow my own vegetables and keep doing things that are hands on. But first I’m going to go touring by bike, and maybe some more volunteering.

Engineering Volunteer

Sylvie Winn

Previously:

I studied for an Environmental Engineering Meng in Cardiff. Then worked in a big company that made me sure I didn’t want to work for people who didn’t really care about the environment and thought I was a bit wacky and idealistic. I visited CAT with a student run charity Engineering Without Borders. Then came for a Short Term Volunteer week and worked mostly in gardening, in the Information department and some with Engineering. Then I came for my trial week where I made an enclosure for the wood chip that’s still here.

Main Responsibilities and projects:

Each morning I fill the woodchip boiler, light it and check it over. I check the level of the reservoir, turn on the hydro turbines and check the heat and electric meter readings to see what we are using and generating. I’ve also been building a rig for the display hydro turbine out of scaffolding to use by the courses department. I help out with some glamorous and some non-glamorous things. The department is really fun, communal and quite flexible.

CAT Structure:

It’s not totally co-operative in every way. There is an established form of hierarchy because its how we are conditioned but its nice to see it. People seem to like their jobs, everyone’s interesting and at the stage where they know what they want to do.

CAT Courses:

I did a short course as part of the Renewable Energy in the Built Environment MSc, it was very intense and interesting. I’m going to do the wind turbine course when I’ve finished and would like to do more.

What has inspired me:

During the induction week I was the most impressed about climate science that I have ever felt. You get to learn about each area of CAT, and about the Zero Carbon Britain report.

Advice:

Everyone is busy everyday keeping everything working; so don’t be afraid to speak up about what you're interested in.

Future plans:

I am keen to stay on the ethical engineering route and I’m looking for jobs around here in renewable energy.

Display Gardens Volunteer

Rachel Solnick

Previously:

I have a BA in Illustration. I had mainly creative experience, which is really useful in the winter months for landscaping work. I also had some practical experience from volunteering with Forest School Camps, a children's charity doing skills based learning. But I had little to no gardening experience when I started.

Main Responsibilities:

I look after two beds in the polytunnel, some organic veg and composting. It’s been the steepest learning curve for me. I also look after the visitor centre beds and the general ticking over of the display gardens. I work one day a week with each of the employed staff: With Chloe it’s more a traditional gardening role. We also do fruit training as she is fruit expert, winter pruning and growing veg; With Angela I do some gardening, but more decorative work, like landscaping which I’ve loved as it's really hands on. The difference I’ve seen in the areas we’ve tackled is extreme. First it's full of brambles, then it gets cleared and levelled, then you build stone walls and its ready for planting. It’s been great to see the fruits of your labour.

CAT Structure:

I really enjoy how much of a community there is, and the communal nature of us all eating together so that you have that time to communicate and transfer interdisciplinary work, I think this could be developed more. As a display garden volunteer you spend a lot of time working on your own so you have to be quite independent and decisive but the support is always there if you need it.

Cat courses:

I did an amazing coppicing course, and would really like to do the woodland management course.

What has inspired me:

I knew I was a relatively practical person but the work I’ve done here has allowed me to take those skills home, external to CAT, and have the confidence to use them. I’ve done so much creative stuff with vision for the next few years restructuring, building walls and arches, giving defining to areas of the site to change and make it more accessible, and beneficial to the visitors. Its also nice to know who your audience is. This is the visitor circuit, that’s how CAT started, by inviting a few people to come and see what they were doing here.

Advice:

I’ve really learnt a lot and loved it, and felt supported but it's important to take it as it comes -it is hard work. I really like the positive mental attitude here - you know you're going to get a bit wet but you have a really good time with the people that you work with.

You can't be bored outside, if you're bored you're cold. if you're cold you dig!

Future plans:

I have completely changed direction. I didn’t really know what I came for except more hands on experience. I’d like to do more work in woodlands. I’ve made some contacts with the local forest school and I’ve become heavily involved in a food waste campaign called This is Rubbish with people I have met here. I am also doing some work in the CAT straw bale theatre with young people over the holidays.

The CAT staff and volunteers really believe in what they are doing- something you don’t find in many work places. It’s a really inspiring place. A springboard for so many people in so many ways, that’s why so many volunteers wish they could stay.