Nightline: “Students can talk to us about anything at all”

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Palatinate interviewed Chris Christou, one of the four public faces of Nightline, about what the service offers, how it works, and why students should make use of it.

Nightline is a phone service for students open from 9pm to 7am every night of term. Students can call to talk through anything during these hours to one of Nightline’s volunteers, all of whom have attended training weekends in ‘active listening.’ This is a technique slightly different to counselling. It is designed to encourage callers to explore their situation, without volunteers offering advice, neatly summed up in the service’s motto “we’ll listen, not lecture.”

The Durham branch of Nightline was started in 1973 by three students, following the opening of the National scheme in 1970s,

which was itself an offshoot from the Samaritans. The logic behind its conception has proved remarkably durable: students may find it easier to talk and process with another member of the university community, as oppose to an external figure or service.

“Even if the University put a lot of effort to restructure, there would still be a place for Nightline.”

The work of Nightline is funded from a few sources, including Durham Students’ Union, the GM Morrisson Trust, individual donations, and fundraising initiatives. Christou did not believe that the service had any direct association with the University administration, although Nightline’s phone number is on all students’ campus cards.

Underpinning the service’s ethos are five principles: calls will always be confidential, both caller and volunteers stay anonymous, and calls will always be non-advisory, non-judgemental, and non- aligned.

Christou emphasised in particular the anonymous nature of the calls, saying that “sometimes students just want to talk to someone that they don’t know.” Anonymity was also given to volunteers, bar a few students who publicise the service.

These principles informed Christou’s belief that there will always be a need for Nightline: “In the end there are a lot of things that could improve student life, but people will always have problems. I think that even if the University put a lot of effort to restructure, there would still be a place for Nightline. Sometimes you just need to talk to someone about your feelings.”

In terms of issues that students faced, there was a sense that every call was different, and there were not striking patterns. “It’s hard to get a sense of recurrent issues, because, first of all, we don’t know what happens to the calls. It’s very hard to sense what is going to happen on a night.”

The plurality of different issues students’ faced was something Christou was keen to emphasise, as he was keen to debunk the myth that students should only call Nightline if they were in crisis: “Students can talk to us about anything at all.”

Nonetheless, there was recognition that some challenges students faced were unique: “For a lot of people, University is their first time away from home. I’m sure this brings problems, because you can lose your support.”

All those who support work the phonelines for Nightline do so on a voluntary basis. When asked how volunteers balance their studies with their the late nights, Christou conceded that while “it can be difficult, we always have two people on duty, and our numbers – which are very good – mean that, should people need, they can take time off.”

Nightline’s number is on the back of students’ campus cards. More information about their ethos and history can be found at durhamnightline.com

Image: Durham Nightline

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