Nightline: Here to listen

A St Andrews-tailored, compassionate service for students, the Saint speaks to Nightline about the role they play in helping students

Illustration: Emilie AG

Socials, extra-curricular activities, and lectures mean that life in the Bubble is usually an exciting, fulfilling experience. Sometimes, however, students experience stress, loneliness, and an overall sense of being overwhelmed. Luckily, St Andrews has a service that can help in these moments of uncertainty.

Nightline is run by students for other students, and it can act as a non-advisory “sound wall” when you want somebody to talk to.

The student volunteers responding to calls, emails, and instant messages remain completely anonymous. They are there to assist with anything from providing a taxi number to lending an anonymous, confidential ear when something is on your mind.

To find out more about the services Nightline provides, The Saint spoke to the students who promote and run day-to-day operations of the organisation.

Third-year Sarah Rodway- Swanson is this year’s Nightline director.

She spoke about what inspired her participation, saying that previous experiences left her “knowing quite how bad things can get when someone bottles something up.

“I saw the benefit of having a service that’s that space for someone who has no one else they can talk to, that space to open up and not bottle it up until crisis point, on the extreme side. That’s what first inspired me, although it’s not all that serious.”

Publicity officer and second-year student Anna Atwell added, “I actually heard about the service before I came to St Andrews, and I thought that it was a really unique opportunity to serve the community.

I’ve seen the work that the people in this organisation do. They’re all dedicated and passionate and truly amazing, and I just think the opportunity to help out in the community is really special.”

Nightline, which has been operating for nearly 45 years, works to ensure that its services are accessible to all students in St Andrews by providing phone, email, and, in the last two years, instant messaging support.

Third-year student Toby Philmister oversees Nightline’s training and recruitment, and he spoke about the broad range of issues and topics the group covers.

Mr Phimister explained, “It goes from really small stuff, like people not knowing where their exam venue is or wanting a chat [to] someone walking home in the dark and wanting someone to talk to [and] more serious stuff.

“Our volunteers are very extensively trained. [We provide] about 40 hours’ worth of training for every volunteer. So they’re completely prepared to deal with literally any situation.”

One of Nightline’s best qualities is its confidential nature. Unlike some support services, the organisation is not tied to disclosure regulations or required to chat on a need-to-know basis.

Moreover, emails and messages are filtered to maintain anonymity, and names and email addresses are never provided.

This is something Ms Rodway-Swanson believes is incredibly valuable.

She said, “The anonymity and the confidentiality gives an extra layer in ensuring people feel more secure talking to us.”

Deputy Director Kieran Wallbanks added, “We will never know the full story of anyone’s situation. We only know a tiny snippet. Even if they tell us loads, there’s still things we don’t know, so it really isn’t our place to give them referrals to other services unless they want them, unless that’s what they’re searching for.”

The decision to listen rather than actively advise students is another key element of Nightline’s work.

“It’s quite different from just chatting with a friend or chatting with your family because we’re just here to listen, so if you just want to rant for an hour about something, or get something off [of] your chest, or even if you’re not exactly sure what it is you want to talk about, you can, which I think is quite important as well,” Mr Wallbanks said.

“It’s a space which allows people to come to their own conclusions and their own solutions, which in a way is more empowering than if we were to give advice,” Ms Rodway-Swanson added. “If [students] make a decision themselves, it is probably going to ultimately be the best decision for them. I think that’s the most important thing about how we operate.”

While support services like Nightline exist in various forms across the country, the team recognises that there is a particular need for the services it provides within the context of St Andrews.

“It’s such an international university that a lot of people come here knowing no one,” Mr Phimister said.

Ms Atwell spoke about how emotions and ambitions can be overwhelming within a high-achieving environment, adding, “Students in the Bubble tend to be really motivated in a lot of ways or really intense, and the programmes here can be really demanding.

“Given the nature of that situation, it can be a stressful environment and it can be really difficult, so that supportive ear can help people in those situations.”

While the team admits that Nightline cannot possibly be the service every person is looking for, members stress that they are still very much there for everyone, every question, and every issue.

Mr Wallbanks said, “If you’re thinking of calling, go ahead, because you just don’t know if it will be helpful to you until you try.”

Nightline services are available from 8 pm to 7 am every evening that university halls are open. IM closes at midnight, but emails can be sent 24/7 and will be picked up at night.

Nightline’s next volunteer recruitment push will be in September. For more details, visit Nightline’s Facebook page.


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