Catalysing change

Catalyst is a leading five-day residential course for young people aged 18-25, hosted at Embercombe, a educational centre for sustainable living in Devon. Catalyst alumni Jasmine Irving reflects on her experience

I first heard of Catalyst – a course for young adults who want to push their boundaries, shape the future and make an impact – at Sunrise festival, when a group of sparkling people enticed me into their taster workshop with contagious smiles. They were buzzing with excitement about this course and the exercises we did were definitely enough to intrigue me.

So two years later, after graduating from university and wondering where to go next, I spent a week on this course hosted at Embercombe, a community in Devon committed to inspiring action for a sustainable world. Here, the importance of providing spaces for young people to delve within, enquire into sustainability and experience community living, became clear – all aiding them to impact positively on society as a whole.

Through a variety of challenges, group tasks, working with the land and one-to-one coaching, Catalyst participants gain a valuable experience. Part of the magic was that although we had an idea of the timing of things like meals, morning routines and daily challenges, we didn’t have a clue what these so-called challenges would involve. This kept us on our toes, excited to find out what would be revealed and open to all possibilities. I can’t divulge information about this particular part of the programme but I can say that each challenge is worthwhile and becomes a treasured experience.

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With Catalyst you embark on an adventure that provides the tools needed to navigate life’s peaks and dips. In a nurturing environment, participants are invited to develop the self-confidence needed to be authentic in a society that so often seems to conflict with the ethos behind sustainable living. Catalyst invites people from diverse backgrounds to take the time to explore how best to look after themselves, each other and the planet. Bursary tickets are available to those who can’t afford the full price – the Catalyst team would not turn someone away for lack of funds.

Each day, we spent some time working in the gardens or in the kitchen preparing food for the communal meals. I realised how, in wider society, little time is spent actively involved in the process that food has to go through before becoming a meal for us to consume. This can be said to reflect a larger problem with consumer society, where even something as essential to life as food can become just another commodity.

“I realised how, in wider society, little time is spent actively involved in the process that food has to go through”

With Catalyst we were all given the opportunity to be part of the vital process of growing and eating, while working together on the land, or independently as we wished. Eating food fresh from the organic garden certainly made for an appreciated dinner. No one was left out due to dietary requirements, vegans, coeliac and gluten-intolerant people were all catered for.

Towards the end of the programme, strong friendships had been forged, a connection with nature deepened and a strong sense of self-awareness cultivated. There is a network of Catalyst alumni who are active in their communities and share information with each other about other valuable opportunities for young people, such as Bootcamp, a course to catapult students into careers in campaigning, and Edventure: Frome, which provides a free nine-month course in social entrepreneurship.

Embercombe provides many more opportunities to learn about sustainability, with its working weekends and volunteer programmes, as well as offering apprenticeships for young people. It’s easy to become disheartened by the worrying statistics in the news about youth unemployment, and the rise in tuition fees, but it is so encouraging to know that there are also many beneficial – and available – avenues for young people today, enabling them to shape their own path.