18/01/2021 • Working here

Coffee calls to virtual visits: one year as part of our Community team

Sola Estefanos, our Community Engagement Coordinator, joined Mount Anvil in early 2020. Almost as soon as she walked through the door, the UK went into its first national lockdown. So, we (virtually) sat down with Sola to ask her about a very unusual first year in her new role, full of people, programmes, pyjamas and of course, a pandemic.

Hi Sola, could you start by telling us a bit about you and what you do at Mount Anvil?

Hello! I’ve been in customer relations and community-orientated roles for over 10 years. I’ve worked with housing associations and councils all over London, and across a huge range of projects, from sheltered schemes to redevelopments.

I love getting to know people and where they live, working closely with communities and building great relationships by giving people the honesty, consistency and support they deserve.

My role here at Mount Anvil is really simple in some ways – I’m here to listen to the residents and be their voice within the business, ensuring that we’re always putting the resident at the heart of our business decisions.


You started at Mount Anvil just before we went into that first lockdown – how did that affect your role?

It was challenging, honestly! I really thrive on face-to-face conversations and obviously they weren’t possible for a lot of 2020, so we had to get creative and reach out to residents virtually.

Mount Anvil put a huge amount of time, energy and resource into building the people-first platforms that we needed to allow us to stay in touch with residents. It’s made such a difference!


Has being remote changed the way you’ve engaged with residents?

Definitely. Engaging with people virtually has its limitations. Most obviously it’s limited the number of residents I’ve been able to speak to – sometimes due to lack of IT connectivity or low confidence with phones and laptops.

To help, I put together a ‘how to’ guide for residents which walked them through using some of the tech. That was a real success and it filled me with joy seeing the elderly and less confident members of the community empowered to join virtual discussions.

There are also definite positives to this new way of connecting – it allows vulnerable people to join meetings they may not come to in person, and it’s actually been very humanising to connect with people in their own homes. I’ve certainly seen a lot of pyjamas this year too – not something I can say of my previous roles!


You mentioned ‘people first platforms’, can you give us an idea of what these are and how you’ve been involved?

We invested in a huge amount of technology in 2020, many of the projects were in the pipeline pre-covid but the pandemic accelerated their growth internally and I’ve been lucky enough to get right in the thick of this, helping shape  how we use some of these amazing virtual platforms and projects for our communities.

I worked on Commonplace, a 24/7 online platform that holds all the information residents might need, allows them to stay up to date with what’s happening on site, and helps anyone unable to attend meetings to stay in the loop.

We partnered with RealWorth in 2020 too – they’re experts in social value and working virtually with communities – and I also worked with BECG, a communications consultancy that offers virtual public consultation exhibitions and events. I helped to integrate that tech with the Commonplace platform, ensuring residents could easily and safely access events from home.


Asides from the pandemic, how are you finding working for Mount Anvil?

I love it. I joined Mount Anvil because people and community are so central here – Mount Anvil has created a community for their staff where they prioritise our health, safety and wellbeing, so it wasn’t a surprise when we were awarded Number One Gold Employer in the MIND workplace wellbeing index in 2020, and that ethos definitely carries over into what we do for residents at a site level.

We’re honest and transparent when we talk to people, we take what they have to say seriously, and we’re committed to learning about and supporting the communities we work in.


What do you miss about pre-pandemic community work, is there anything that are you looking forward to once things get ‘back to normal’?

Seeing how Mount Anvil responded to the pandemic, especially so soon after I started, was great. The decision to invest in cutting-edge technology was ultimately a decision to invest in ensuring residents’ voices were still being heard.

Still, even with great technology at our disposal there’s just nothing like face-to-face conversations for me. Sitting in a room with someone, sharing a coffee, building those personal relationships. People can see you’re a real person and that you genuinely care about what they have to say. You just can’t fake that.


Thanks so much Sola, any final words?

Just to say a very warm hello to all the residents and communities that we work with. I hope you’re all keeping safe! I’m really looking forward to a time when we can be in a room together, share a drink and have the open, honest conversations that help us to build outstanding places and great communities.


Whether you’re a member of one of our communities or just interested in the work we’re doing in the places we’re transforming, you can pop Sola an email to arrange a time to chat with her via sestefanos@mountanvil.com