Last weekend, I went to the annual Nightline Association Spring Conference.
I’ve been volunteering with Nightline for over six years; it’s carried me through some of the most formative years of my life, and has been one of the absolute best things that I’ve ever done. I’m deeply, deeply fond.
Nightlines are listening and information services, set up at universities across the UK and Ireland. They’re helplines run by students and are open through the night, when most other support services are closed. If you’re familiar with the Samaritans – we’re pretty much the same, except on a university level. Of course, we move with the times; as well as phones, most Nightlines have instant messaging, email and face-to-face services. Makes things just so much more interesting. I’m telling you, active listening over IM is hard. Without tone, or body language – it is difficult to convey sympathy.
I volunteered at Birmingham Nightline for three years, while I was at university there. It’s the kind of organisation where if you get involved, you tend to really get involved. My best friends were all Nightline volunteers, and it was just kind of cool to all hang out doing publicity events, training and committee meetings. So many committee meetings. I got the committee bug, and volunteered for a lot of things, including coordinator (committee chair). Overall it was an excellent experience, where I met some of my best friends, learnt how to chair meetings and stressed so much about the service staying open that I had repeated dreams of its closure for about 10 months.
We also won a few awards 🙂
As I left university, I left Birmingham Nightline. I went kicking and screaming, but it’s a fundamental ethos of Nightline that it’s run by students – which I do agree with, as it allows it to be a peer-based service where the call-takers can deeply empathise with their student callers. Still, there was no way I was going cold turkey, so I joined Nightline Association.
Nightline Association is the overarching charity that supports, promotes and develops Nightlines – Nightlines themselves aren’t charities (one exception), but Nightline Association is, which allows us access to funding to do excellent things like hold conferences and offer IT services. There’s a huge amount of turnover within Nightlines (student lyfe) so Nightline Association acts as a point of continuity, amongst many other things. We help where we can.
I started as a fundraising volunteer, and learnt all about how JustGiving works and how to run an epic bakesale. I moved into external communications, and started writing press releases and talking to journalists (they rarely replied). I sallied into events where I lost my mind planning conference after conference, and learnt that I’m actually not all that good at delegating (slight control issues). I then side-stepped into appointments, upon which I realised that rigid procedural rules are excellent and I that whilst I really do quite like following policy, I like making it more. A little while after that, I applied to be a trustee, looking at the strategic direction of the charity. I was accepted by the board, and last weekend I was ratified at AGM by our members to become a full trustee of the charity. I was also deeply honoured to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award.
It was an incredible moment, and I imagine it’ll be a wonderful memory for the rest of my life. (Not least because I had just the best dress.) It’s difficult to put into words exactly what Nightline means to me, but everything wouldn’t be all that far off. I’ve volunteered with Nightline in a lot of different roles, but ultimately it’s all about that moment when someone’s in need, and they pick up a phone/send out an email/blast an IM/knock on the door and someone is there to listen to them. There are people all across the country who forgo sleep to be there for their fellow students. I’ve had the honour of doing that myself; I’ve talked to people who were suffering from depression, eating disorders, crippling loneliness, overwhelming stress and anxiety, and suffering the aftermath of rape. I’ve listened to someone who had taken steps to end their life, and had the call end knowing that I’ll never know what happened to her. It’s one of the most difficult and beautiful things that I’ve ever done, and there are about a hundred students who are doing the exact same thing on any given night.
As a trustee, I look at our finances; I produce monthly financial reports which allows us to track our progress against budget and our capacity to put on events & provide services. But everything that I do – no matter how abstract I get – it’s all about the volunteers at the end of the phone. Being there for people; letting them know they’re not alone – it really is everything.
A few photos from the conference; all credit to the fabulous Hannah Patterson.