Advisory Board

School of Social Sciences and Humanities

The School of Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) has an active Advisory Board comprised of experienced regional, national, and international members. It includes business leaders, members of government and the public sector, and alumni.

The Board advises the School's senior leadership team on strategic areas in relation to learning and teaching, research, and business engagement. Several board members support specific initiatives within the School, with many board members acting as mentors to final year undergraduate students.

Advisory Board Members
SSH advisory board John Cotton

John Cotton

Birmingham City Council

John Cotton was first elected to Birmingham City Council in 1999 and represents the Glebe Farm and Tile Cross Ward in the east of the city. He is the Council’s Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion, Community Safety & Equalities, responsible for leading the city’s efforts to tackle social and economic injustice and building stronger safer communities. John has previously held Cabinet portfolios covering adult social care, public health and housing, which also reflect his passionate interest in tackling the root causes of poverty and disadvantage. Over the course of a varied career, he has worked in private industry, as assistant to a Labour MP, in the voluntary sector and as a freelance public affairs consultant. John also chairs the national executive committee of Labour Housing Group, a national organisation campaigning for progressive and radical reform to housing policy.

SSH advisory board Jonathan Davidson

Jonathan Davidson

Chief Executive, Writing West Midlands

Jonathan Davidson has worked for over twenty-five years in arts management and literature development. He is joint-founder and Associate Director of the Birmingham Literature Festival, Chief Executive of Writing West Midlands and Director of Midland Creative Projects Limited. He produces theatre-poetry performances, most recently The Hundred Years’ War with The Belgrade Theatre and Bloodaxe Books. His radio plays are regularly broadcast on BBC Radios 3 and 4. His stage adaptation of Mary Webb’s novel Precious Bane, toured with Interplay Theatre. His most recent collection of poetry is A Commonplace (Smith/Doorstop, 2020.) He is Chair of the National Association of Writers in Education, serves on the Advisory Groups of The Poetry Business, Out on the Page and the Muslim Arts & Culture Festival and on the Governance and Road Map Committees of the Birmingham & Midland Institute. He is a Fellow of The English Association.

SSH advisory board Matthew Derbyshire

Matthew Derbyshire

Editorial Director, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group

Matthew Derbyshire is an Editorial Director at Routledge, Taylor & Francis. He has worked for twenty years in the publishing industry producing Social Science books and journals. He is a history graduate of Royal Holloway, University of London.


Gemma Dilkes 

Policy and Projects Officer, Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce

Gemma currently works at the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce as a Policy and Projects Officer. She read for both her Bachelors and Masters degrees at Aston University: BSc French and Spanish (2017-2021) and MA International Relations and Global Governance (2021-2022).

During her time at Aston, Gemma participated in university life beyond her degree, having worked as a Research Assistant on an AHRC-funded project within the Aston Centre for Applied Linguistics, as an Ambassador for Routes into Languages West Midlands, and represented the University in the International EuroSim 2022 intercollegiate simulation of the European Union.

Like many Aston students, Gemma accelerated her professional development during her integrated placement year, working as an English Tutor at Air France, and as a Translator at a Spanish law firm.

SSH advisory board Horatio Georgestone

Horatio Georgestone

Senior Policy Adviser, Her Majesty's Treasury

Horatio is the Founder of a social enterprise called YDWC. His desire to spark positive global change and inspire people has driven a career that has spanned from Financial PR to the Civil Service. He graduated from Aston University with a Bachelors degree in Politics with International Relations before graduating from University College London with a Masters degree in Global Governance and Ethics.


Bernadette Holmes

Director of Speak to the Future, the National Campaign for Languages

SSH advisory board Roger Lawrence

Roger Lawrence

Wolverhampton Council

Roger Lawrence was leader of Wolverhampton City Council from 2002 to 2008 and from 2010 to 2019. He was also transport portfolio holder for West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and continues to be involved in rail and metro issues in the region. He has a DSocSci from the University of Bristol for a study of regional cross border cooperation in East and Central Europe and has published on European Regional Policy and Local Government. He is an honorary research fellow at the University of Wolverhampton and is a board member of West Midlands Urban Community Housing (WMuch), Birmingham Airport and West Midlands Rail Executive.


Geoffrey Mandami

Speechwriter with the European Commission

SSH advisory board Raj Pal

Raj Pal

Curator/historian and activist

Raj Pal is a curator/historian and activist. With a long career of having worked in the cultural sector in various capacities, he is now a freelance curator/consultant and has worked on projects at the National Trust, English Heritage and other heritage institutions. In the last few years, Raj has successfully led “contested” heritage curatorial interventions at places as varied as Kedleston hall, family seat of Lord Curzon, Viceroy to India 1899-1904, Chartwell house, home of Winston Churchill and Powys castle, family seat of Lord Clive of India, Chiswick house museums and trust all of which have focused on bringing about cultural change through re-imaging existing collections and human resources. In 2022 Raj co-curated the hugely successful “Blacklash: No justice, no peace” exhibition at Birmingham museums & art gallery and curated the “Soho House Mural Project” at Soho House, Birmingham. Using his knowledge and skills to focus on bringing about cultural change through curation so that institutions can begin to reflect diversity through their outputs, he is also curatorial advisor to Fulham Palace Trust’s ambitious project to explore the role of the Bishops of London in British colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade and is leading a team of curators re-displaying its collections as part of an ambitious re-development of The Harris, Preston. Raj is a regular writer, speaker and broadcaster on cultural issues.

SSH advisory board Rhianna Patel

Rhianna Patel

International Policy Adviser, UK Vaccines Taskforce, BEIS

Rhianna is an Aston University alumna and currently manages cross-cutting international policy for the UK Vaccines Taskforce at BEIS. She is working to help the UK Government deliver a COVID-19 vaccine effectively and understanding how we can work with our global partners in doing so. Before moving to the Vaccines Taskforce, she worked in EU Exit policy. There she managed BEIS’ 40 partner organisations cutting across nuclear, energy, business and science industries and helped them prepare for EU exit and the end of the transition period. During the start of the COVID-19 crisis, she also worked with the Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Labour Markets and was the conduit between the Department and the Minister. It was here that she established her passion for complex policy making, relationship building and crisis management. Outside of work, she is a school governor and she is studying part-time for a Masters in Politics, Philosophy and Economics.

SSH advisory board Christina Schaeffner

Christina Schaeffner

Emeritus Professor, Aston University (retired)

Christina Schaeffner is Professor Emerita at Aston University. She worked at Aston from 1992 till 2015 where she taught undergraduate and postgraduate courses in translation studies, interpreting, text analysis, research methods, and she supervised MA dissertations and PhD students. In September 2015, she retired from her post as Professor of Translation Studies, but continues to be research active, e.g. through conference presentations, refereeing, giving guest lectures, and as a member of editorial boards of multiple journals. Her main research interests are political discourse and translation, metaphor in translation, and translation didactics. From 2004 till 2019, she was a member of the international CETRA staff (annual summer school for PhD students in translation studies), and was CETRA chair professor in 2011. She was responsible for one of the four sub-projects of the Marie Curie initial training network TIME (Translation Research Training: an integrated and intersectoral model for Europe) which ran from 2011 till 2014 and was established with support from the European Commission. From 2007-2009, she was a member of the expert group set up by the Directorate General for Translation (DGT) of the European Commission whose main task was to make specific proposals with a view to implementing a European Master's in Translation (EMT) throughout the European Union. She was also a member of the steering committee of OPTIMALE, an Erasmus academic network aiming at Optimising Professional Translator Training in a Multilingual Europe.

SSH advisory board Mike Solly

Mike Solly

Senior Adviser, British Council

Mike has worked in the English language teaching field for almost 30 years, having spent 15 years as a classroom teacher, then as a teacher trainer and materials designer, and then managing both small and large scale ELT projects and networks for the British Council. He has lived and worked in a number of countries and spent many years in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Mike worked across formally hostile communities in English education projects in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina. He accepted a position at the Open University UK, as a Senior Lecturer in International Teacher Education in January 2009 where he worked on all aspects of the now highly acclaimed DFID funded English in Action project in Bangladesh – becoming lead academic on the project’s work in Secondary Schools. It was in Bangladesh that Mike became interested in the language needs of migrants moving to the Middle East. He then became Director of the teacher development project, TESSA (Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa) where his long-standing interest in the issues surrounding the globalization of English, and the attitudes to English (as a medium of education as well as a subject) were particularly relevant. Mike returned to the British Council at the end of 2015 with a global strategic role in English for Education systems with a particular responsibility for the British Council’s approach in the area of languages for migrants and refugees.

His research interests are informed by his work above, and he has published in the areas of attitudes to English language in development context, the language needs of migrants from Bangladesh, sand the use of video in teacher education projects.

SSH advisory board Claire Spencer

Claire Spencer

Senior Policy Adviser, West Midlands Combined Authority

Claire is a committed localist who combines a passion for empowering communities of place and interest to make change with a commitment to creating the conditions for collaboration to thrive. She is currently working with the West Midlands Combined Authority as a senior policy adviser within the Public Service Reform team, focused on shaping and delivering the region’s inclusive growth agenda, which sees public services and economic activity directed towards the same social and environmental missions. She has worked across the public, private and third sectors, founded a community renewables co-operative, and has also held public office as a councillor in Birmingham.

SSH advisory board Darren Verdi-Ashton

Darren Verdi-Ashton

Director, The Word Hub Limited

A graduate of Liverpool University, Darren has worked in the translation industry since 2004 and has a wealth of knowledge enabling him to assist companies with their language needs. He is also an active member of the Association of Translation Companies keen to elevate the importance of language and translation for UK business. Darren and his team visit universities to talk about how Language Service Providers work and the routes available for language graduates to enter the translation industry.

SSH advisory board Trevelyan Wright

Trevelyan Wright

Chief Executive, Newhampton Arts Centre

Trevelyan Wright is the Chief Executive of Newhampton Arts Centre in Wolverhampton. Prior to this he spent ten years working in Stoke-on-Trent for B Arts as Executive Director. He has held many senior positions in arts organisations – including Birmingham Rep, Compton Verney Museum and Art Gallery, The Royal Shakespeare Company, Salisbury Playhouse and The Watermill Theatre.