Catherine's USVI Disaster Relief Blog - Contant by Vivien Moseley

 Catherine (far right) with her volunteer group

Catherine (far right) with her volunteer group

This week marks six months since Hurricane Irma hit St Thomas. The storm brought 185mph winds, which took the roofs off thousands of buildings, then just two weeks later Hurricane Maria came, bringing huge downpours of rain. Homes were flooded and the loss was epidemic. 

All Hands and Hearts has led the efforts in disaster response since October 2017, helping over 5,000 people and logging more than 46,000 volunteer hours. I have been on the island for 10 days and have logged 100 hours. In this short amount of time, I have already seen so much strength and determination amongst communities across the island. The work is hard, physically and emotionally, it is +30 degrees and a long way from London but I have had the privileged opportunity to get to know the island on a whole new level. 

The very first home I worked on was in the neighbourhood of Contant. As we gathered our tools for the day, our team leader briefed us that this project was extremely sensitive. Mr and Mrs Ferguson, an elderly couple, had shipped their 15-sided home over from the mainland, where they were told that it would be strong enough to withstand a hurricane. But when two hit in the same month, the house and the area crumbled. They were trapped in their home for three days with no water and no food. The roads in Contant were completely blocked with debris and it was impossible to get in or out. Mr Ferguson told me that when he was rescued he was so weak that he had to be airlifted straight to Puerto Rico for medical treatment. He was taken so quickly that he lost his wife en-route and had to leave her behind. Mr Ferguson ended up in a shelter in Puerto Rico for several weeks. The shelter held over 1,200 people in one room with only two toilets, while his wife was alone in their home dealing with the devastation the storm had left. Despite this trauma and complete loss, the couple were back together and full of laughter, love and graciousness. They were smiling and sorting through personal belongings while we removed mouldy termite infested walls, floors and ceilings around them. In less than two weeks, I have worked on mucking and gutting, debris removal, quality control and sanitation across six completely unique homes. I’ve learnt the basics of plumbing and mastered several new power tools, but hearing the inspirational stories of the survivors has been the highlight so far. The ability to pick yourself up when your home and life have been torn before your eyes is something that I am finding breathtaking. The majority of people on St Thomas literally don’t have a roof to sleep under and yet are so positive. 

To find out more about the charity or to donate to the efforts that enable the work to continue here on the island of St Thomas visit 

So far, I have 1001 inspiring stories and 1001 mosquito blog post coming soon. 

Catherine embarks on sabbatical to assist with hurricane disaster relief by Vivien Moseley


We are extremely proud to announce that Catherine has been offered a placement in the United States Virgin Islands assisting with on-the-ground disaster relief for Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. She will be joining the response team undertaking mucking-out, gutting of buildings, debris removal and sanitation.

On 6 September 2017, Category 5 Hurricane Irma hit the region, with winds and flooding causing mass damage and devastation. Later that month, the Caribbean islands were hit again by Hurricane Maria, which affected 100% of the 100,000 residents. In January 2018, power was restored to most of the islands, however, thousands of homes are in such a state of disrepair that they are still, four months later, unable to be connected to the grid. Catherine will be volunteering as part of All Hands and Hearts, a volunteer-powered disaster relief organisation dedicated to rebuilding hope on the island of St Thomas. The organisation responds to the needs of communities impacted by the immediate devastation by engaging and leveraging volunteers, partner organisations and local communities.

Check back here to follow Catherine’s journey and read about life and work on the camp. Following volunteering, Catherine will also be travelling around Central America for a month while she dines out on four successful years at Comm Comm UK before returning to the office in May 2018.

In the meantime, we would like to welcome and introduce you to Vanessa Moon, who has joined the Comm Comm UK team, to take over from Catherine while she is away. Vanessa is owner of Voom Media a public relation and copywriting agency specialising in strategic communications, media relations and content development. With a background in regional news and business journalism, national trade press and public and private sector stakeholder communications for 20 years, Vanessa has an eye for a story and experience developing messages. Vanessa also has extensive experience in stakeholder consultation and engagement, working with clients such as Asda and Durkan and within public sector, consulting with housing tenants on the transfer of housing stock from local authority control.

Who is the new Minister of State for Housing, Dominic Raab? by Vivien Moseley


Dominic Raab stepped into his new role as Minister of State for Housing at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on 9 January during the Prime Minister's latest cabinet reshuffle. He previously held office at the Ministry of Justice as Minister of State for Courts and Justice.

Raab, considered one of the rising stars of the Conservative Party, replaces Alok Sharma who held the position for just seven months, during which he was tasked with research for the Social Housing Green Paper. Unfortunately, Sharma was not able to complete the project during his time in the role. However, the report is due to be finalised and published this spring. Sharma has subsequently been made the new Employment Minister.  

Raab was first elected as Member of Parliament representing the low-growth, green belt constituency of Esher and Walton in 2010; a safe Conservative seat since its creation in 1997. Before entering Parliament, Raab worked as a business lawyer at the City law firm Linklaters specialising in project finance, international litigation and competition law.

Between 2000 and 2006, Raab joined the civil service at the Foreign Office. He covered a range of briefs, including heading a British Embassy team at The Hague, which was dedicated to bringing war criminals to justice. From 2006 until his election as a Member of Parliament, Dominic Raab worked as Chief of Staff to Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, and to Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Grieve.

Although planning has been dropped from the title, Raab will take responsibility for planning alongside housing with his brief to cover:

  • Supporting the Housing Secretary on housing supply policy and delivery
  • Housing financing streamsHome ownership policy
  • Planning policy and casework oversightHomes England sponsorship and performance
  • Building safety and regulations (including government response to the Hackitt review)
  • Land assembly and release, and Public Sector Land and Digital Land
  • ‘Help to Buy’
  • Quality and design
  • Grenfell recovery programme
  • Social Housing Green Paper.

Since his election, Raab has not been particularly active when it comes to housing debates in parliament but has been a vocal opponent to building on the green belt. In early 2017, he stated that he was amongst the MPs that lobbied the government, as it created its Housing White Paper, against green belt building. He went on to say that as the government endeavours to build more affordable housing it must ensure that green belt protections remain intact.

During the drafting of the NPPF 45 Tory and Lib Dem MPs , including Raab, wrote an open letter to the government to express their concerns. This open letter requested that the government carefully considered the new rules to ensure a continued commitment to genuine sustainable development that prioritises quality of life over economic interests. The 45 MPs also called for a commitment to build on brown-field sites before any consideration is given to the development of green belt areas.

Raab’s appointment to the position of Housing Minister has been seen as a contentious appointment by some due to his lack of experience in housing and Local Government alongside his commitment to green belt protections.  

by Vivien Moseley


Alok Sharma appointed to Minister of State for Housing and Planning

Alok Sharma was appointed Minister of State for Housing and Planning, for the Department of Communities and Local Government on 13 June following the May 2017 election, succeeding Gavin Barwell who lost his seat. Alok Sharma was first elected to the House of Commons in 2010 for the constituency, Reading West, an area where he grew up and went to school.

Prior to entering Parliament, Alok qualified as a chartered accountant with Coopers & Lybrand Deloitte and then worked for 16 years in the field of banking, initially for the Japanese firm Nikko Securities followed by senior roles at Enskilda Securities, which is the investment banking arm of SE Banken.

During his Parliamentary career, he has served as a Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Treasury and has also been a member of both the Commons Treasury select committee and the Commons Science and Technology select committee. He also had a spell as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP when he was Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and had overall responsibility for the Cabinet Office. From 2012-2015, Alok was a Conservative Party Vice-Chairman and was then appointed in 2016 as the Prime Minister's Infrastructure Envoy to India, the country of his birth. In July 2016 until June 2017 he was Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Minister for Asia and the Pacific).

As Minister of State for Housing and Planning he is responsible for:

  • Housing supply policy
  • Home ownership policy
  • Planning policy
  • Planning casework oversight
  • Homes and Communities Agency sponsorship and performance
  • Building regulations
  • Private rented sector.