Nightline: meeting the voices on the other side of the screen


As summative deadlines loom over us and exam season presses ever closer, it can be easy to become overwhelmed by stress. Consequently, it is important to remember to reach out for support when needed, and to be aware of the platforms that offer this help when you feel the people around you cannot.

Nightline is an active listening service run by students, for students. Founded on principles of confidentiality and anonymity, students can expect someone to listen to them without casting judgment. The helpline is contactable through both a phone line and an instant messaging service, and is available every night during term time, from 9pm until 7am.

In the past few weeks, I have been fortunate enough to speak with three of the five public-facing Nightline volunteers. One of these volunteers was Ellie, a History student from St Aidan’s. She is currently the Publicity Officer for Nightline, and has been working with them for two and a half years, helping to train freps and staff members.

Another volunteer I spoke with was Ben, a Theology and Religion student from St Mary’s. He is one of three Coordinators responsible for ensuring the organisation remains running as smoothly as it does: handling admin, finance, student support, as well as both preparing and delivering training. He has been involved with Nightline for well over a year. 

Finally, I heard from Charley, an English Literature student from South College. She has been part of the organisation for over a year, and at present holds the position of Training Officer, helping to organise and direct induction sessions such as the termly Nightline Training Weekend. She also provides external training in active listening for societies and colleges.

It’s a beautiful thing to help a stranger, especially when there’s no concept of personal glory or reward

What motivated you to start working with Nightline?

Ellie: When I signed up to the training weekend, a lot of people close to me were struggling with their mental health and I just wanted to learn how best to support them. Over the course of the weekend, I realised the impact volunteers can have beyond just their circle and wanted to get more involved. Every shift I have done since I joined has only reinforced that. 

Ben: I think it was the realisation that it’s a beautiful thing to help a stranger, especially when there’s no concept of personal glory or reward. What our volunteers provide may exist as a string of isolated phone calls, through one lens, but they may also make the genuine, significant difference between the experience of isolation, and the experience of being heard.

Charley: I signed up for the training because a lot of people I love have struggled with mental health issues. I wanted to feel better equipped to help them, and I figured that if I could do it for them, why not others too?

Sometimes, in our darkest moments, we don’t need solutions — we just need someone to be there for us

What experience has been particularly memorable or significant to you in your time volunteering? 

Ellie: There are so many to choose from, but I think I would have to say my first duty. Going in I was very nervous about taking calls, staying up all night, and being on duty for ten hours (!) with someone I had never met before, but it was surprisingly comfortable. Over the course of the night we snacked, read, supported each other, and got to know way more about each other’s lives than I ever had on a first meeting before. Despite my exhaustion, the next morning I felt like I had made a small difference, and was already looking forward to my next duty, which hasn’t changed.

Ben: Honestly, my training weekend still sticks out as one of the most developmental moments in all of my Nightline experience, even though there have been many that compete. I think it exposed me to a whole host of topics which I didn’t feel I knew anything about, and challenged me to have the kinds of conversations that I previously may have avoided. The lessons I learned from that weekend have stuck with me, informing my interactions with people even to this day.

Charley: One particularly poignant moment for me was when I took a call that was extremely difficult, and I was very distressed about my inability to physically help the caller. However, a fellow volunteer told me that although it doesn’t feel like you’ve made things any better, you were there for them when they could have had no one. Sometimes, in our darkest moments, we don’t need solutions — we just need someone to be there for us. 

If you want someone to sit with you in silence, talk through exam stress, family troubles or anything else, we are here

What would you say to someone who is thinking about volunteering for Nightline?

Ellie: Absolutely come and try it! You don’t have to want to volunteer in order to come on the training weekend (and most of the volunteers didn’t come planning to volunteer anyway). If you do decide to volunteer, you are joining one of the best communities in Durham.

Ben: That they literally have nothing to lose, and everything to gain by trying. Through our training and welfare systems, we ensure that every volunteer feels capable and supported through their experience with Nightline. The impact that you can have as a volunteer is significant, meaningful, and worthwhile.

Charley: I cannot say for certain what your experience of Nightline will be like, but for me, it has been one of the most rewarding and humbling things I have ever experienced. The skills you learn are invaluable, and the volunteers are some of the most compassionate, selfless people you could ever hope to meet. It is something I feel genuinely privileged to be a part of.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about getting help via Nightline?

Ellie: Give it a go! We are primarily an active listening service, which means that the calls are driven by the caller. You can choose what you want to talk, or not talk, about. If you want someone to sit with you in silence, talk through exam stress, family troubles or anything else, we are here. And if you decide it doesn’t work for you, we might be able to help you find an alternative, or you can always hang up — we won’t be offended! 

Ben: That there is no problem too big or small to talk about. At the end of the day, we exist as a listening service for all, and you will never be met with judgement for whatever you have to say. 

Charley: Whether you want to spend hours going over a huge problem, or just want to chat, no issue is too big or too small.  We do not give advice or try to solve any problems (although we do offer signposting upon request).  We are simply here to listen.

If you are interested in volunteering with Nightline, or learning more about active listening, sign up will be opening in the next few weeks for the post-exam season training weekend. You can stay informed by keeping an eye on Nightline’s respective social media channels.




Help is always available, please reach out if you need it. You can find Nightline’s phone number on the back of your campus card.

Image credits: Nightline

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