We spoke to the volunteers at Oxford Nightline, the independent listening, support and information service run for and by students, about their work in Oxford and why services like Nightline are important.
What is your society and why is it important?
Oxford Nightline is a completely independent listening, support and information service run for and by the students of Oxford and Oxford Brookes Universities. We are currently open from 8pm-2am, 0th week to 9th week, during Oxford term time. Our service is important because provide a confidential and non-judgemental space for callers to talk about whatever they want whilst we listen. We won’t give advice or tell them what to do – we understand that many callers will have heard the same responses and advice from family and friends many times, and just want a compassionate listener.
We believe that sometimes it’s just good to have the opportunity to talk things through or to know that there’s someone there who cares and is willing to listen. Callers can feel safe in the knowledge that what they say won’t be shared or judged. We don’t rush or pressure callers and we won’t hang up, however long somebody wants to talk. We also offer a wide range of information ranging from details of mental health services, to STI clinics, bus timetables, contact details for the counselling service, or the nearest pub. Whatever students want to chat about – big or small – we’re here to listen.
How did it begin?
The first Nightline began operating in 1970, and now there are many Nightlines operating world-wide. Oxford Nightline has been operating since 1972 when it was set up by a second-year undergraduate student at St Anne’s College.
How would a normal week during term look for a student involved?
To begin with, prospective listening volunteers for Oxford Nightline dedicate three consecutive Saturdays or Sundays to training, where they learn to take calls in a confidential, non-directional and non-judgemental manner. After training, our volunteers begin taking a minimum of 2 shifts per term.
In normal circumstances, these shifts would be taken in the office with another shift partner, but we are currently carrying out our services remotely via instant messenger. Volunteers can also attend committee meetings held during term. Many of our listening volunteers take up other positions on the committee, getting involved more widely in things like publicity, welfare and entz.
How has your group responded to the pandemic?
Oxford Nightline has been committed to continuing to provide our listening services during the pandemic. Last term, we were able to take calls in the office. This term, many of our volunteers are currently not in Oxford to take phone calls, but we continue to listen to students through our instant messaging service. We believe it is vital that students are able to talk to us during what are very strange and challenging times. We want them to be aware that even when they are not physically in Oxford, we’re here to listen.
Training has also continued to run successfully during the pandemic, although virtually, and our welfare and Entz events are running online, too.
What is the most rewarding part of being involved in your group?
The most rewarding part of being involved in Oxford Nightline is knowing that we make a difference and being a small but important piece of a bigger picture. Taking a long call can sometimes be difficult, but what is extremely rewarding is being able to show a lot of empathy and compassion to someone, and to give them the space to talk through their thoughts with us. Particularly during the pandemic, we hope students in Oxford feel less alone in being able to share with us. Being a volunteer also means developing active listening and empathy skills that are transferrable to everyday conversations. Forming new friendships with other volunteers during night shifts has also been really valuable – the students that volunteer for Oxford Nightline are extremely lovely people to talk to!
What is coming up next? Any future events planned?
Oxford Nightline is carrying on with call-taking and will begin training again next term – so look out for that!
What is the best way that students can get involved?
Students can get involved by volunteering as a call-taker! Training to be a listening volunteer takes place every term, and training groups are finalised by the end of the 2nd week of term. It is also possible to volunteer as a Publicity, Fundraising and Outreach (PFO) volunteer, which is a really important role because it involves making our services known through social media and events. If students are interested in volunteering, they can visit our website.