‘Utopian Realism’ is an exploration of rural utopianism, idealism and industrialism in the North East of England and Mid Wales by the artists Mair Hughes and Bridget Kennedy.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Return from Wales

Just settling back in at home after another research trip to Wales.

This one was a very immersive experience as we spent six days living on site at CAT. There is an on site community of between 12 and 15 people which fluctuates depending on how many long and short term volunteers there are. The core of the community who live on site all the time consists of three families, two of whom we had the pleasure of sharing house space with over our week long stay. The generosity of the people we encountered was very touching and we were able to slip into a comfortable domestic routine with offers of bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, conservatory and garden spaces all gratefully received.

Staying on site gave us a small insight into a more sustainable life style. There are no fridges or freezers in the houses, food can be gathered as and when from the communal food store, which is like a large pantry and cool enough to store butter and cheese in. There are also bulk supplies of cleaning products so you can re fill containers and a whole host of food stuffs from basic dried goods to tofu and fresh fruit and veg. Hot water can be produced either via solar panels in the spring/ summer or via wood burning stove in autumn/ winter. The main cottages have conventional bathrooms but there is also a composting toilet which Mair and I used on occasion. Apart from that the cottages were equipped with all the mod cons to live a pleasant modern lifestyle, wi-fi connection and even a projector for home movie nights were an unexpected bonus.

We started our stay by volunteering on the Wildlife Weekend (23rd and 24th July). CAT works with a great variety and number of volunteers so we were well looked after and able to participate in a number of the activities ourselves , the beautiful sunshine was also a great bonus.

The following week saw us filming and photographing various locations around CAT as well as having many, many conversations with the enormous number of knowledgeable and passionate staff and volunteers. One of the great things about day to day life in CAT is the food. Now Mair and I are very attached to our tea and cake rituals, but CAT goes that bit further by providing a marvellous midday meal for all staff and volunteers. This communal meal takes place in the beloved Tea Chest, one of the older buildings on the site and home to some of the short term volunteers. This lunchtime gathering was a brilliant way for Mair and I to meet and catch up with people. CAT is quite spread out with offices in many nooks and crannies, plus a body of staff who are not always chained to their desks, so tracking people down is not always easy. However chatting to them whilst munching your way through the very generous helpings of tasty vegetarian food, accompanied by fresh salad produce from the on site garden, is possibly the most pleasant networking experience I've had.

Over the period of our stay Mair focused much of her attention on documenting a short course on sustainable building that was taking place, whilst I re visited my favourite spots up at the reservoir and the small turbines. We also spent time together in the WISE lecture theatre, taking a closer look at what might be possible to install there for our show in October.

We seemed to pass our days going out on individual forays punctuated by meetings during which we would share information and ideas. This seemed to be a good way of maximizing our time.

Friday came around all too quickly and we emerged from CAT buzzing with ideas and possibilities both short and long term. These will develop further over the coming weeks, plus Mair and I will blog about specific things that caught our interest during the stay at CAT.

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