Prof Robert Ralphs

Professor of Criminology and Social Policy, Manchester Metropolitan University

Headshot of man with glassesThe Manchester Convention Bureau sat down with Prof Rob Ralphs to discuss his experience in attracting an international conference to Manchester and acting as a Manchester Conference Mbassador:

Can you start by telling us a bit about your background?

I'm Rob, a Professor of Criminology and Social Policy at Manchester Met. My passion lies in understanding and addressing issues like reducing substance use related harms, youth crime, violent crime, gangs, and drug dealing. I've spent over 25 years researching and teaching in these areas, armed with a strong academic foundation. I earned a first-class BSc (hons) in Sociology from the University of Salford and later completed my PhD at Manchester Metropolitan University.

My expertise led me to consult for various organisations, including Hackney Borough Council, Greater Manchester’s Mayor’s Office, the GBT Foundation, Manchester City Council, the Ministry of Justice, and the Scottish Government. I’ve dedicated myself to finding solutions to local and national issues like gang violence, drug dealing, homelessness and more recently, the use of ‘Spice’ in prisons and homeless communities. Through this extensive body of research, I have established myself as one of the UK’s most experienced criminologists in the gangs and substance use fields, leading to regular media requests for expert comment.

My commitment extends beyond academia. I'm a proud Trustee of the charity Mothers Against Violence, who have worked tirelessly since 1999 to reduce gang involvement and related violence. My own involvement dates back almost 20 years to 2005 and includes founding and serving as secretary of GMPs Trafford division Gun and Gang Independent Advisory Group, as well as supporting the Inter Community Defence Council and servicing as Director and Trustee of the Community Change Foundation in their gang conflict mediation efforts. I’m also a Non-Executive Director of On The Out, an amazing Manchester based organisation who help recently released prisoners, including those at risk of homelessness through a range of support including housing, sorting out benefits, helping them to engage with treatment services and probation, getting them an ID/a bank account.

Can you tell us about the conference that you’re hosting in Manchester?

Manchester has recently been announced as the host city for the 35th annual European Society for Social Drugs (ESSD) Research Conference.

The ESSD is an association of European social scientists working on drug issues. Its principal aims are to promote social science approaches to drug research, particularly support qualitative and novel research methods, and encourage early career researchers.

The Society holds annual conferences to promote collaboration and co-operation among researchers working in the drugs field. Manchester Metropolitan University will host a 3-day conference 18-20 September 2024. We're looking forward to welcoming the community to our city.  

Since 1990, more than thirty annual conferences have been organised in over twenty countries, alternating between North, South, East and West Europe. A key feature of the ESSD conferences is the active participation of attendees which allows presenters to share experiences with their colleagues across Europe. There are no keynote lectures, parallel sessions nor workshops. All presentations last for 15 minutes and there is plenty of room for discussion, exchange of ideas and informal gatherings. Such an atmosphere is also appropriate for participants new to the field, especially young and new researchers.

What benefits will the conference bring to your university, your academic community and you personally?

Hosting this international conference offers significant benefits for Manchester Metropolitan University, the broader Manchester academic community, and me personally. For Manchester Met, this conference solidifies its reputation as a leader in innovative drugs research, elevates the profile of the newly-established Drugs, Policy and Social Change (DPSC) research centre, and facilitates new collaborations.

The conference is an invaluable platform for knowledge sharing, networking, and community building across the Manchester academic landscape. It boosts public engagement with vital research on drug policy and trends.

Our co-hosts, the University of Manchester’s Department of Criminology, have a long history of social science focused drugs research. Hosting this international conference is an opportunity to promote the great work that Manchester based academics are doing in relation to drug markets, drug policy, drug trends and harm reduction. 

What strengths does Manchester Met have in your field?

Manchester Met’s strengths lie in its interdisciplinarity and its critical mass in the field of drug use, markets, policy, and practice. We are very applied and engaged in local communities, including working closely with local authorities, and the pubic and voluntary sectors in meeting the challenges associated with latest drug trends and markets. 

What do you consider to be Manchester’s strengths as a conference destination?

Manchester makes an ideal conference destination. It is perfectly located, proving easy access for delegates travelling from all parts of the UK, while Manchester Airport makes it very accessible for international delegates.  As a city, it boasts some amazing venues for hosting events, and offers a rich culture and heritage. It offers something for everyone, with a vibrant night-time economy, thriving arts and culture, excellent shopping, and some fantastic venues to take in sport, music, exhibitions, and theatre.    

Manchester Metropolitan University offers innovative and flexible spaces for events, conferences, summer schools and residential summer groups. With multiple tiered lecture theatres (largest capacity 280, can stream across 3 to 750 participants) and a huge array of breakout rooms…