What inspired you to create the project ?
For some years prior to setting up the charity we had been doing outreach projects with local schools and volunteer groups - creating school gardens, pupil-built eco-buildings and conservation work . We could see how people got so much out of working together, doing meaningful practcal projects, especially outdoors and using natural materials. In this kind of setting, with a shared sense of purpose and presented with a worthwhile challenge: people revealed creative aspects to themselves that had perhaps been previously dormant or undeveloped. There's an emphasis in today's world on technological skills - which is important -but its predominantly indoor based and to compliment that we need to provide experiences, that call upon the body as a whole, to all our senses and sensibilities, to enable us to develop our fullest capacities as creative, caring, coopertively minded individuals. When we work in the garden we nurture and tend to more than just the plants: we help grow ourselves.
How does it work ?
We're a Social Enterprise and a Not-for-Profit Registered Charity . We've a small management team and board of trustees. We aim to keep things simple and the administrative work to an essential minimum so that our main focus can be on the delivery of skills training and practical experiences. That said: we've handled some complex European Funding Projects, Welsh Assembly Government Grants and Big Lottery Funds over the years and have succesfully canvased support from a good number of Trusts and Foundations to meet our capital outlay and running costs. Increasingly we generate an increasing portion of our income through commissioned work, hosting public events and through donations.
We've been here a while now and have a great deal to show for it, both in terms of the number of people that have benefited from the project and through the building of some amazing eco-facilities, so people can see what we have and what we can achieve with the right level of support. What's been created here inspires confidence in what we do and generates interest as more people want to get involved.
As we near the end of our projected 15 year development phase: we're closing-in on the final construction work on the new facilities like the cafe and visitor centre . When they are fully operational the resource will eneble us to generate sufficient income to meet the centre's running costs and to continue developing the vision into the future
Why did you create these new buildings and who made them ?
It's not so easy today to picture what was originally here some 14 years ago when we started. There was just the disused old stone farmhouse standing in one big, open, windy field with no trees and no hedges. The tip of the penisula gets weather from all diections, and a lot of it ! In order to make it into a welcoming space for both wildlife and people - we needed to create shelter. All the local schools came to help plant up thousand of native trees and build new windbreaking hedge banks. Then volunteers started coming to build the roundhouses and workspaces and visitor facilities that would enable people to study and work and enjoy the centre. They kept on coming and from all over the world, so we could see that the project's cultural and environmental appeal was both local and international - and popular: during the summer months we sometimes field as many as 5 applications each day from people who wish to come to volunteer. The community that has grown around the project is broad and multicultural.
We began with the earliest style of buildings - dating back 2500 years with the Celtic Roundhouses and followed up with the later Mediaeval style CruckOak Framed Boatshed and laterly with CAMAS - a Centre for Archaeology, Mythology and Storytelling, that combines traditional styles and materials with modern eco-building technologies. We've created an architectural timeline along the river valley: from the ancient to the very contemporary.
How will the proposed CLAS Youth Initiative Programme work ?
The template for our residential skills hub for young people comes from a long established Scandinavian model of Folkschools, in particular Sweden's YIP. It'll be the first of its kind in Wales and appropriately scaled for this rural setting, with an annual intake of around 15 participants. Big enough to make it work socially and enable the pariipants to have the right level of mentoring support and skills training resources on site. We envisage the current diversity of backgrounds and nationalities to be a theme of the new programme. Participants will be sponsored, bursaried and self funded and expected to contribute a portion of each week working toward generating an income for the centre, through their apprentiships to craftspeople and helping to run the visitor and catering facilities.
Participants will be resident at the centre for either the six month or one year programme. They will stay in the refurbished farmhouse and be responsible for their own shared facilities and have a house parent to provide additional support. The programme will consist of a combination of guided study with assigned tutors, conducting individual research into a relevant field/subject - and practical work alongside craft and land work practitioners at the centre.
This balance of focused study and practical work is what give the initiative programmes their popular appeal amongst young people of school and college leaving age and what provides graduates with such a rich portfolio of experience and life skills and provides potential empolyers with an impressive body of evidence of the young person's capacities and potential.
When are you open and what can we see now at the centre ?
Felin Uchaf is open for visitors every day and all year. Once you enter the car park you'll see the octagonal information shelter with a map of the 23 acre site showing the nature trails and access path routes and the many eco-building projects underway and community gardens that you can visit. From Monday to Friday between 10-4pm, there will usually be one of the craftspeople in the boatshed or volunteers who can welcome you and help anwser any questions you may have. There are limted toilet facilities - a state of the art thatched compost toilet - near the big Celtic Roundhouse.
Our current Fundraising Appeal is about raising money to buy capital items such as a biomass boiler and interior fittings for the new Visitor Centre facilities - the Organic Cafe and the CAMAS studios and gallery building. Even part built: these superbly crafted buildings are attracting enthusiastic responses from visitors. They showcase good eco-building practices and the highest standards of craftsmanship - when completed will be the cherry on the centre's cake !