Leobanda cleans up in Dragons’ Den contest for London housing association residents
15:52 16 June 2012
A north London woman has won the chance to change her life after triumphing in a Dragons’ Den-style competition.
Islington resident Leobanda Balcazar answered a Start Your Own Business challenge put down by her housing association Arhag, which works across 13 London boroughs.
She has landed the top prize, funding towards establishing her business Maid Direct in the form of a £16,000 contract to provide cleaning services for a year to Arhag’s refugee hostel and three blocks of flats in Newham.
The competition saw residents from five different housing providers take part in free training, followed by a meeting with business ‘dragons’ to pitch for funding to start their own businesses.
Leobanda, aged 54, of Moreland Street, Islington, arrived in London in 1996 from Colombia with her young son, but no English or prospects.
She spent seven years as a volunteer for the Latin American Welfare Group as she built up her English and began to take on domestic cleaning work.
As her English improved, Leobanda moved into clinical cleaning, working at UCL Hospital, and is now a supervisor in charge of the cleaning of three wards.
It is a far cry from her previous life in Colombia where she worked as a journalist and built up a medical clinic specialising in hyperbaric medicine and alternative therapies.
Leobanda said: “When I came to England, I could not continue work as a journalist, I did not have the language skills.I was used to being busy and I really struggled.
“Arhag has given me everything. In 2005, when I had nothing, they gave me a home of my own, and now they are giving me the confidence to build up my own business. I hope to be able to train and employ others, including Arhag residents. I am so full of ideas to build up the business.
“When I first started cleaning, I was shocked at how people treated cleaners, how they were not valued. I became determined to take pride in cleaning, and that is what I now try to inspire in the cleaners I supervise in the hospital.”
Arhag chief executive Dorian Leatham said: “All who took part are exceptional people. Leobanda is an extraordinary person, and her presentation to the dragons gave us all the confidence we needed to place a contract with her.
“As unemployment grows and welfare reforms bite we are planning to commit additional funds to develop new opportunities to support and encourage small businesses, training and employment which improves the quality of life for residents.
“We will be looking at additional ways in which we can provide employment opportunities for residents to work with Arhag.”