Cut Short follows the story of author Ciaran Thapar’s time spent mentoring teenagers in Lambeth, one of the poorest areas of London and the UK as a whole, which sits at the sharp end of the current knife crime epidemic.
Having recently moved to Brixton, Thapar signs up to become a student counsellor and coach, determined to forge a connection with local people and learn more about the area around his new home. But the invisible lines of class, race and postcode assert themselves from the start. It’s a steep learning curve for writer and mentees alike.
‘One evening I walked past a community centre near my new home and rang the buzzer. I met Tony, a man in his 50s who was wearing a checked shirt tucked into jeans,’ writes Thapar. ‘“I’d like to start volunteering,” I told him, assuming that such an offer would be welcomed. But it was more complicated than that...Tony had mixed feelings about me. He was, he said, happy I’d knocked on his door. He felt that people arriving to live in Brixton in large numbers, as gentrification proceeded to restitch the fabric of the area, needed to gain a connection to people who already lived there. Yet I looked like an undercover policeman. He reasoned that the boys at the club – who were even more vigilant than he was – would think I was, too.’
The son of a GP and university educated, Thapar didn’t look or sound local. He didn’t have to fear crossing the tracks into the wrong postcode or remain wary of getting jumped or mugged. But through thousands of hours of mentoring he finally won his mentees trust – a central tenet of Cut Short is that actions speak louder than words.
Rather than looking at knife crime in isolation, Thapar paints a compelling and poignant picture of individuals and families working to change their situation; people full of hope and energy, nursing dreams of better lives as well as the trauma of lives cut short. As George the Poet writes in praise of this urgent, informed, important book: ‘Ciaran’s work is informed by lived experience at the frontline of social change. It takes a sensitive and respectful look at the truths less often told.’