Leon plays for Sporting Hackney's youth team, and Billy has mentored him this season. Sitting on the stairs outside the sports hall at The City Academy School, Hackney, they are talking all things mentoring from both sides of the relationship.
Billy: We've been working together this year and meet once a month, usually at a local cafe for a cup of tea or hot chocolate. Leon took the bus there last time, despite living five minutes away.
Leon: Ha ha ha
Billy: Sometimes we do other things, we both quite like - what's it called Leon - 'Shakespeare?' Actually one of the first things we did together was to see Julius Caesar at the theatre.
Leon: [Laughing] Yeah that was because I'd told you that I liked acting and wanted to get into drama, so you sorted out for us to go and see the play. It was really interesting and set in the present day. The only thing was we had to stand up the whole time, they did it to make you feel part of the drama, ... it was two hours long!
Billy: Since then Leon has attended a creative writing course. Go on, talk about your play Leon.
Leon: I wrote a play and it was performed by actors, with an audience and everything at the Hackney Empire, [laughs] well just behind it actually.
Billy: It's really, really good.
Leon: The play is about modern life. It's people my age, two best mates who start off talking about how stupid gangs are. But then one of them actually ends up being manipulated into joining a gang. They both like the same girl and things get messed up between them. In the end, he actually kills his friend, all because he joined the gang. Growing up here in Hackney I've seen my friends join gangs and end up in prison. It's sad.
The message is: look how crazy this is, they were best mates. The audience was properly shocked at the way it ended.
It's a mix of my own experiences and things I've read about.
“Growing up here in Hackney I've seen my friends join gangs and end up in prison. It's sad.”
Billy: You've also had another mentor helping you with your drama
Leon: Yeah, had I not met Billy and had such a good experience of mentorship, I would not have done that. Before I met Billy through Behind Every Kick I didn't really know what mentorship would be, you know, what to expect. I like to try new things though, so I was open to it and I thought Why not? I was surprised in a good way. I was a bit shy at first but our conversations were smooth straight away. I could tell he understood me, and I felt I could open up with him in a way you can't always do with your mum or your teacher. Instead of just talking to myself when I've got a problem, I know I can talk to Billy about absolutely anything.
Billy: I think that's a real strength of BEK. That little connection with sport makes the first few meetings easier, and gives that initial reason for the young person to be there. I have mentored with other programmes and its noticeable that BEK attracts different types of people. Men, as well as women, from backgrounds who might not necessarily think mentoring was something they could do. That's really important.
“I think that's a real strength of BEK. That little connection with sport makes the first few meetings easier, and gives that initial reason for the young person to be there.”
I see mentoring as helping a young person answer the questions they need to answer for themselves, helping them find their own solutions. It's a skill you have to learn in life or you'll end up following other people and that can lead to problems. Leon's definitely not a follower, he's an independent thinker. The importance of that is something I've definitely learnt from Leon. I really enjoy hearing what Leon has to say; it's always interesting, and having a chat with him is a nice way to spend an hour or two. It's relaxed, there's no real pressure. [Laughs] He doesn't really need me anymore.
“I see mentoring as helping a young person answer the questions they need to answer for themselves, helping them find their own solutions.”
Leon: I got myself into a difficult situation with some of the boys at football. There was a bit of trouble. I made a mistake. But I was able to talk to Billy and get his advice on what I should do to make things right and that was so helpful to me ... That's why if someone asked me, 'What's good about having a mentor?' I'd say, 'Everything. You'll learn new things - there's nothing to lose, you'll only gain from it.'
“That's why if someone asked me, 'What's good about having a mentor?' I'd say, 'Everything. You'll learn new things - there's nothing to lose, you'll only gain from it.”
Billy: You'd make a really good mentor Leon.
Leon: Yeah, why not. It would be great to help someone my age one day - like you've helped me. I will go to university now. I was a bit sceptical, but Billy has helped me find out about different courses and told me his experiences and it's definitely something I want to do. Thanks, Billy.