BMC – A new kind of learning

When two writers living in the Black Mountains, Ben Rawlence and Owen Sheers, discussed what they could do to help prepare for a changing planet, they didn’t expect to be founding a college. But three years on, that is what has happened.

Considering how to encourage systems thinking and open, creative mindsets ready to solve problems, led them to develop an approach to learning rooted in the natural world, using the Brecon Beacons National Park as the classroom.

Black Mountains College is a radical new educational institution dedicated to preparing for a very different kind of economy and society. A future without fossil fuels means we need to change what we eat, how we farm, where we live, how we live, how we travel, even what we wear. 

Preparing for this future means enormous changes to existing systems and will require new graduates schooled in holistic ways of thinking able to collaborate, communicate and critique.

BMC is developing a new kind of undergraduate curriculum with small class sizes, outside learning and a curriculum focused on how humans learn, sensory training and the relationship between humans and the biosphere. A final year project will be on implementing the Well Being and Future Generations Act in Mid Wales. This pioneering piece of legislation puts Wales among very few nations that have passed laws recognising the rights of future generations. BMC offers students from around the world the chance to come to Wales and be part of building a sustainable transition – and gain academic credit, work experience and social impact all at the same time. 

In the medium term BMC will be offering vocational courses starting in 2020 with seasonal catering, no dig horticulture/agro-ecology and sustainable construction.

For this summer, 2019, BMC has put together a collection of short courses inspired by the challenges of climate change. From sharing the science about global warming or astrophysics to using art in the landscape to inspire new ways of seeing, thinking and being, our residential courses are unique.

All our courses employ head, hand and heart learning practices designed to open up the body to receiving new information and forging new connections in the brain. Using team teaching to spark unorthodox connections across disciplines is standard at BMC. For example, writer Owen Sheers and dry-stone waller Whitney Brown will spend two days in the hills building walls and discussing the craft of writing about the landscape. Geologist James Goff and artist Sue Milne will analyse the geology of the landscape before making art out of the soil. Astrophysicist David Helfand and paleo-astronomer John Swann will consider the Big Bang, the Bronze Age and the history of the stars as we know come to see them now: how the constellations have changed, and will change further.

The courses are all held in the historic setting of Coleg Trefeca, a Methodist retreat centre at the foot of Mynedd Troed mountain between Talgarth and Llangorse. Participants will eat together in the 18th century kitchen, enjoy the camp fire and the international dark sky status of the Brecon Beacons National Park and share what we are sure will be a stimulating and enriching experience.

To find out more, or to book one of the limited spaces on the summer school programme, head to the website.

Photograph: David Mark