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Cynefin – our habitat

Blog Cynefin our habitat centre for alternative techonology wales hero

There’s a great word in Welsh – Cynefin.

Being English, I won’t do its true meaning justice, but it seems to be the very thing under threat from the climate emergency. Cynefin means habitat but also how a habitat can influence and defines us to create a personal sense of place. Human activity and global warming is putting our own cynefin at risk, which is why it feels appropriate for future plans at the Centre for Alternative Technology.

As the realities of environmental impact are hitting home around the world, such dangers were foreseen by a community of pioneers based in a remote quarry in rural Wales over 45 years ago, known as the Centre for Alternative Technology (or CAT). Colliers’ Destination Consulting has recently had the privilege of working with CAT where authenticity and hands-on practicality sets the foundation, for both a great visitor experience and inspiring behavioural change. This helps to improve sustainability and hopefully helps secure our cynefin in the long term.

About the Centre for Alternative Technology

The Centre for Alternative Technology, founded in 1973, is an educational charity and eco-centre near Machynlleth in Mid-Wales. It was established in a repurposed slate quarry in 1973, developing a reputation as a learning centre for sustainable solutions using practical demonstration. Key topics and themes include building, energy, diet, biodiversity, and lifestyle.

CAT started out as an off-grid community of passionate individuals attracted together by a growing concern about the environmental impact of fossil fuels and a desire to showcase alternative ways of generating energy and living in a lower impact way. As their ideas and activities grew, a visitor centre was developed, which in turn evolved into an educational charity sharing practical solutions for sustainability. Many of the early radical ideas and innovations have been adopted with CAT being recognised as having a founding role in the modern environmental movement.

Today, CAT offers practical solutions and hands-on learning to help create a zero carbon world. People can attend for the day, join a short course, or stay overnight as part of a masters degree course via their Graduate School of the Environment.

Future plans

CAT has come a long way since the 1970s and still has huge potential to this day. CAT is developing plans for a multi-million pound capital investment programme looking to transform the organisation, site and activities over the next five years in order to rapidly scale up its impact on environmental solutions. The two fundamental elements include revitalising the visitor experience offer and further developing the skills within the learning centre.

The project’s goal is to create a unique and memorable visitor experience whilst inspiring change and leading the way to a zero-carbon economy. As the urgency and national focus on sustainability grows, the project has relevance and benefits at national, regional and local levels.

Colliers is part of a multidisciplinary team preparing the masterplan, designs and outline business case, working towards funding applications for CAT’s plans.

The value of authenticity

What makes CAT a compelling visit and a unique is the dedication to hands-on learning. You can go there and build a solar powered model, ride uphill in a water-balanced railway or take a course on home energy systems, gardening or even wildlife. When coupled with the heritage of the pioneering spirit and the passion of CAT’s staff, volunteers, students, and supporters, it gives an authenticity that many contemporary visitors, learners or consumers of all types have a real craving for – a genuinely real experience. Such authenticity can inspire and empower people to make changes in their own lives to be more sustainable, and hopefully appreciate our collective cynefin too.

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About the author

Matt Hyslop is Head of Destination Consulting and a specialist in creating successful destinations by giving strategic advice to owners, developers, investors and operators of visitor attractions in the UK and internationally.

To contact Matt, email

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Matthew Hyslop


Destination Consulting


I specialise in creating successful destinations by giving strategic advice to owners, developers, investors and operators of any place whose core business is visitors.

I work for private and public sector clients in the UK and internationally, advising on regions, cities, mixed use developments, visitor attractions and museums, leisure and entertainment, heritage and culture, parks and public realm.

The principles of long term, sustainable viability are the core of our approach through market analysis and research, concept and product development, feasibility studies, options appraisals, business planning, marketing and branding, finance, funding and governance/management advice.

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