InFocus: Emma Laverick, director of Nightline

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Photo: Ellen Shaw
Photo: Ellen Shaw

Nightline. We’ve all seen the name somewhere – on the back of your matric card, on your hall noticeboard or perhaps on one of those lovely posters handily located in University toilet cubicles – but what do they really do? I sat down with the director, Emma Laverick, to find out.

St Andrews Nightline is one of 40 such organisations throughout the UK. It is a listening and information service run by students, for students.

“Basically, students can email at any time of day or call us up between the hours of 8pm and 7am and a volunteer will pick up and listen to them. They can call about literally anything and everything they want; if they’re feeling down, if they’re having relationship issues, if they’re homesick – to things like if they want to know the number for Dervish or what time the first bus goes to Edinburgh.”

“We act by five principles,” she tells me. The first of these is that [volunteers] are non-directive; they do not offer advice, rather they allow callers to vent and talk things out for themselves. “We’re students, we don’t have any kind of qualifications to give anyone advice. Nightline is there as kind of a listening board.”

This anonymity is their second principle. All listening volunteers are anonymous, as are the people who call or email; they have anonymising software on their email, so even if you use your saintmail account they can’t tell who you are. In a place like St Andrews where everyone knows each other, it can be quite difficult to talk to your friends about some things, Emma explained. “Sometimes you just feel like talking to somebody that you don’t know at all and who will never know you.”

Nightline further promises to be empathetic, as well as non-judgmental:

“Volunteers don’t judge, we’re there to provide a safe space.” Confidentiality is also key, says Emma. Nightline is an independent organisation, separate from Student Services. “What you say stays with us, it remains between the volunteer and the person calling. Even if someone was to call and be suicidal we wouldn’t pass it on.”

I asked what sort of things students commonly call about, but this proved difficult to answer. “Such a variety, it’s incredible,” she told me. “It’s brilliant that people feel like they can talk to us about everything and anything. You could get anything on a night from sexual health, to I don’t like my tutor or I got a really bad mark, to things like I’m locked out of my room or where do I get a pumpkin for Halloween. It varies so much, kind of makes the night interesting for our volunteers as well.”

Nightline has between forty and fifty listening volunteers at any time; enough to ensure that one girl and one guy are ready to take calls every night, in case a caller would prefer to speak to either one for a particular reason. Volunteers are expected to do one shift every two to three weeks.

But being on call from 8pm to 7am, it must get boring? “You’re on with somebody else, it’s not as if you’re sitting alone so you have someone to chat to.”

Although they may face some difficult issues, they are trained to be ready to help in any situation. Emma explained: “They go through such a large amount of training that they’re prepared for anything.”

Nightline recruits volunteers at the beginning of each semester. Anybody interested can fill out an application form – found on their website – and bring this to their information night. Emma certainly feels that is a worthwhile occupation. She said the best part is that, “you’re actually making a direct impact” on the student body. “You’re talking to someone one on one who’s called up and wants to talk to you and who’s going through something; even giving somebody information that they need. You’re helping in some way. And that’s why it’s so brilliant, brilliant to do. It’s definitely the best thing I’ve done.”

As well as listening volunteers, Nightline has a publicity and a “mental health advocates” team, which you can sign up for online. These people help with online campaigns – such as the recent ‘#studywell’ campaign. There are further poster campaigns every year and last month there was even a Nightline awareness week. Emma is confident that students are becoming more aware of what Nightline offers: “I do think that over the years more people have come to know what Nightline is.”

Nightline really is a great service which aims to help St Andrews students. If you’re ever in need of a pair of kind, listening ears, you know where to turn.

You can contact Nightline by calling 01334 462266 or emailing nightline@st-andrews.ac.uk

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