Community Technology (COMTEK) Festival 1979

During a 1979 tour of Europe, ham radio expert Copthorne Macdonald visited the Community Technology Festival (Comtek) in Britain.

| March/April 1980

MOTHER EARTH NEWS' own Copthorne Macdonald recently returned from an extended European trip. During his travels, he attended the U.N. Conference of Science and Technology for Development (UNCSTD) in Vienna, the Non-Governmental Organizations Forum (NGO Forum) held in that same city, and Britain's Community Technology Festival (COMTEK). The following article is the second in a series of reports from Cop on these attempts to determine how technology can best meet the needs of the world's people.  

Though Britain's Community Technology Festival — held in Milton Keynes, England — featured solar water heaters, wind generators from 5 to 700 watts, a paper recycling operation, and wood-burning stoves, the most exciting aspect of the fair (to me, at least) was the help-others-do-it-themselves attitude that pervaded the event.

Make It and Take It Home

For example, one group that championed this concept was Laurieston Hall . . . a community of 15 adults and 10 children who live in a large country mansion in Scotland and are involved in working with sheet metal and building stoves. If such metalwork interests you, you could — for about $10 a day to cover room and board — live with these people, use their shop, benefit from their advice, and build your own  wood-burner. The average cost of materials ranges from about $45 per stove to nothing at all if you bring your own oil drum or sheet metal with you. It's hard to beat the organization's "learn by doing and take the finished product home" approach!

Or perhaps your community could use an institution like London's OK Garage, which is sponsored by the Mutual Aid Centre. It's a consumer cooperative, providing tools and other facilities which allow folks to repair their own cars. (The garage stocks spare parts and sells gasoline, too.)

The Alternative Technology Group (Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, England MK7 6AA ), on the other hand, offers four workshops equipped for metalwork, woodwork, pottery, jewelry-making, and weaving. In addition, the group has a media center with offset printing, typing, and photographic facilities . . . and all of its resources are available for a small "rental" fee.

Cooperative Excellence

Of course, COMTEK '79 had attractions other than such do-it-yourself opportunities, too. For one thing, a big tent was set up to house the talks and slide shows that various groups had prepared. (I even did a show about the aims of the New Directions Radio organization.) Films were shown in another tent . . . anti-nuke theater was staged in the grassy fields ... and excellent meals were served by Bath Civil Aid. (The members of the last-mentioned organization have taken over Bath, England's civil defense program, and they travel around the country serving meals to large gatherings at rock concerts and similar events . . . honing their civil defense skills in the process, of course! )

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