"We all believe in the power of talking about whatever is on your mind, and in the power of listening" - an interview with a Nightline volunteer

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An anonymous writer interviews a Nightline volunteer about their work with the service and how students can get involved.

Sam sounds a bit like a politician. They have been volunteering with Bristol Nightline for just over two years, and agreed to talk to Epigram about Nightline’s work. Sam answered all questions posed; yet, very little is revealed about the organisation, for reasons of confidentiality.

we go through life and try to give everyone advice but what many people need is someone who really just lets them be the centre of the conversation and lets them talk

‘Confidentiality’ – a key word on the Nightline website, on flyers, and in Sam’s answers. Anonymity is another one – Sam was ready to give an interview provided that their real name and gender would not be mentioned.

The concept behind Nightline is fairly straight forward. The central organisation was founded in 1975, and today, the branch in Bristol is one of thirty-six confidential, anonymous, and non-advisory listening and information service centres on campuses across the UK and Ireland. Every term night, between eight in the evening and eight in the morning, students can call the Nightline number, to talk about anything they feel upset or distressed about – following the slogan ‘No problem is too small or too big.’

Calls are being taken by student volunteers, who are trained to listen and to thereby help callers to reach their own conclusions, or to signpost them to sources of further support. Asked about the demand for Nightline conversations, Sam replied that ‘this really varies from night to night, but we find that Welcome Week and exam periods get busier.’ Which seems to, once again, rebut the common assumption that the first week of university is necessarily the best week in people’s lives.

The over seventy volunteers are the backbone of Nightline, and most of them join because they want to ‘give something back’, or in order to contribute to the fight against the stigma which is still attached to mental health, as Sam told Epigram. Personally, they appreciate that Nightline is a space which allows callers to be simply listened to, and to cast off a sense of duty to function and perform: ‘I wanted to get involved because […] we go through life and try to give everyone advice but what many people need is someone who really just lets them be the centre of the conversation and lets them talk. Here at Nightline, we all believe in the power of talking about whatever is on your mind, and in the power of listening.’

While Sam acknowledges that mental health is still often treated like a taboo, they underline that many members of the university community in Bristol are interested in the topic, as well as ready to get involved to make a change. Raising public awareness of mental well-being and increasing the visibility of Nightline’s activity are on the top of the organisation’s agenda for the near future. It can be a balancing act to become more present on campus whilst remaining faithful to the promise of confidentiality or anonymity.

Volunteers have very different backgrounds, but share the ‘drive and motivation to make the student experience more pleasurable and overall easier’, as Sam explains. New volunteers are always welcome – and well trained and looked after. ‘We run weekend training sessions over the course of two days. There we discuss a large range of topics and make volunteers fully aware what Nightline does, what we stand for and what volunteering involves. Even if people don’t get involved after the training, the sessions are a great opportunity to learn about different topics and ask questions.’

Sam emphasised that Nightline strongly cares about the welfare of its volunteers, as well as its callers. Within the organisation, a large support network has been built over the years, and there is a wide range of resources available.

As mentioned above, the information revealed is vague and little – but Sam and their fellow Nightliners hope that it is enough to encourage people to both call and to volunteer. As long as there are volunteers and callers, Nightline Bristol can continue to build on its achievements.

Featured image: Facebook / Bristol Nightline


You can call Nightline every term night from 8pm-8am on 01179 266 266.

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