By an anonymous volunteer
It’s 8:30pm. I’ve just got back from a post-dinner walk in the freezing cold and am feeling refreshed. I get changed into my comfiest jumper and cosiest tracksuit bottoms, brew a pot of coffee, and set up my workstation. I have a long night ahead of me, and I’m ready.
As I sit down at my desk, I feel a wave of calm rush over me. The chapter of my diss that’s incomplete, the formative presentation that I need to prepare, the seminar reading that I’ve not started yet: they have all been set aside for the night. Tonight, I’m focusing on the messages that will come through, focusing on listening to anyone who needs someone to talk to. Tonight, I’m volunteering for Nightline.
For those who don’t know, Nightline is a listening service run by students for students, where volunteers offer their time to listen to calls and instant messages (IMs). It’s similar to the work of the Samaritans. We’re open every night of term from 9pm until 7am.
That being said, Nightline’s been a bit different this year. We can’t offer our usual phone service, because we haven’t been able to get into our office. Our instant messaging service, though, is still available for any student through our website: www.durhamnightline.com
For us volunteers, this has made the experience of Nightline a little different too. Instead of going to the office, we’ve been running the service remotely – from our university rooms, our childhood bedrooms, or our home offices (if we’re lucky). This has made it a bit strange. We haven’t seen each other in-person for many months, and many of our volunteers have never been in the office. We’ve all become experts in video conferencing (perhaps even more than everyone else) and are now acutely aware of the drain a 10-hour video call takes on your laptop’s processing power. It’s not been ideal, and our community feels a little less connected than usual, but we’ve managed to keep the service running every single night.
Despite these differences, though, some things have stayed the same. You still know you’re going to get on with the person you’re on duty with, even though they’re only on the other end of a video call. Maybe you used to play with them on a sports team, or you’ve seen them in an awkward Zoom seminar a couple of times, or you’ve never met before. In my experience, we are all like-minded people, so we all get along regardless. We all just want to help. Even if you’re not there to make friends, and you’re focused on the callers, it’s nice to have company while you’re waiting for messages to come in. It really is a wonderful, supportive community.
As ever, then, the first IM of the evening comes in soon after 9pm and the night begins. They could be talking about anything, and they could be anyone. Nightline is a confidential, anonymous and non-judgmental service, so I would never talk about the content of a call with anyone else or judge them for anything they say. It all stays between the individual volunteer and the caller.
They could be stressed about lockdown.
They could be worried about academic work.
They could be a victim of sexual abuse.
They could be having suicidal thoughts.
Or, they could just fancy a chat with someone.
Regardless, I will talk with them for as long as they need, as will any other volunteer. It’s what we’re there for.
After the first IM ends, I nip to the toilet then come back into my room. I sit on the video call with my duty partner and wait for the next one to come in. We keep it up until 7am, then head off to our beds for some well-earned sleep. Another night, another successful Nightline shift.
So, even if it is a little more challenging to duty remotely, it’s still worth it for our callers. It’s worth it to provide a listening ear for any student who needs it.
To access the instant messaging service or find out more about the service, such as how to get involved by volunteering, see our website: www.durhamnightline.com
When you need us, we’ll be listening.
Image: Durham Nightline