We spoke to the volunteers at Birmingham Nightline and here’s what we learnt

There has been a 119% increase in contacts reporting feelings of loneliness since last year

CW: discussions of mental health and emotional distress.

Birmingham Nightline is an anonymous and confidential listening and information service for university students at the University of Birmingham, Aston University and Birmingham City University.

We spoke to Birmingham’s Nightline volunteers about how their job has changed throughout the coronavirus pandemic, and how they work as an anonymous service.

You can access their service here.


How long are your shifts typically?

“Our normal shifts run from 8pm – 8am every night of term, with drop-ins (face-to-face contacts) open until midnight.

Currently, however, we are running a remote service as we cannot be in our office, so our shifts run from 8pm – 1am, on Instant Messenger (IM) and email only”.

Even the memes are great!

What do you get calls and messages about?

“We get contacts requesting all sorts of information, from academic queries and contact details for academic advisors, to other, more specific mental health resources and support services. We did get a lot of calls from Aston University students who were locked out of their accommodation for a while”.

Has there been an increase in messages concerning mental health due to the pandemic?

“There has been more than a 10% increase in average weekly IM and email contacts since last academic year.

“Considering that we are currently open for seven hours less per night, this is a significant increase in contacts. There has also been a drastic increase in the combined reported themes for each contact, suggesting that contacts are on average experiencing a wider array of issues than they were pre-pandemic”.

Since last year, there has been:

220% increase in contacts reporting family issues

60% increase in contacts reporting stress and/or anxiety

55% increase in contacts reporting suicidal thoughts

The Nightline bear out and about

 Is everything completely anonymous?

“Our contacts are completely anonymous unless they choose to tell us anything about themselves – unless, of course, they come for a drop-in, although it is still entirely up to them whether or not to tell us any personal details such as their name.

“Our volunteers preserve their anonymity as much as possible, although we do tend to tell our housemates that we work for Nightline – they might think it a little odd if we kept disappearing for an entire night without telling them where we were going!”

Do you get free snacks and drinks on shift?

“The short answer is no. We usually have some biscuits and a rather strange selection of dubious-sounding teas in the office. The real excitement of shift is that it’s a great excuse for a takeaway – we even have a notebook where volunteers can review their takeaway experiences to help other Nightliners decide where to order from.

“Several of us have preserved the tradition by getting a takeaway even on remote shifts – why wouldn’t you?”

Do any calls stick with you long after taking them?

“Some contacts can be difficult for volunteers for a variety of reasons, which is why we have an incredible Welfare Officer in the society, who is always there for a chat if anybody has had a challenging contact and wants to talk about it.

“We have other support systems in place as well, and we are generally a very kind and approachable group of people, so we are always there to support each other. Our welfare is just as important as that of the contacts we take, so we have a strong emphasis on caring for each other within the society.”

What do you do when there are no callers?

“We talk, play games, watch films, work…okay, I’ve never actually done any work on shift, but apparently some people do!

“Netflix parties are very popular on remote shifts, and we’ve found some great online games (Scribbl.io is a favourite). There are some board games in the office as well – Monopoly always gets a little too competitive, though.

“Shifts are always a lot of fun – it’s kind of like a sleepover, and many of us have chatted into the early hours of the morning.”

Do you have Nightline nights out? (Pre-pandemic!)

“Of course! We are a student society like any other and we aim to provide our volunteers with a wide array of socials they can enjoy. We love a house party, yoga session, bar crawl or afternoon walk as much as the next society, and our lockdown socials have been just about as wholesome as humanly possible!”

Nightline contact information

Nightline is open 8pm – 1am every night of term, and their email service runs 24/7 all year round. Due to Covid restrictions, they can be found on Facebook, IM and email: [email protected]

They can also be found on Twitter and Instagram .

All pictures credit to Birmingham Nightline

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