Norwich Nightline is recruiting UEA volunteers to improve student mental health support

The organisation has been supporting UEA and NUA students since 1972

Norwich Nightline, a “confidential and non-advisory listening service”, is recruiting local students to improve the mental health support provided by universities.

Founded in 1972, Norwich Nightline consists of UEA student volunteers, encouraging fellow local students to reach out. Rather than “lecturing or judging” callers, the helpline aims to “listen and help callers reach their own conclusions”. According to their website, “whether you want to talk about something upsetting you, or want some information of any kind, give us a call. No problem is too big or too small, we are simply here to listen”.

Jake Goddard, a research student at UEA, is the External Co-ordinator on the Norwich Nightline Committee. We spoke to him about what it’s like to volunteer for Norwich Nightline and how UEA students can get involved and help with the student mental health crisis.

Jake is a research student in Politics


What’s it like to volunteer for Norwich Nightline?

“A typical shift outside of Covid times runs for 12 hours, during which time you’ll be allowed to either sleep, get on with coursework or chat with another volunteer when contacts don’t come in. We have plenty of tea, coffee and snacks to help you get all comfortable and snug. Most nights we get at least a few hours’ sleep, and we only ask for a minimum of three shifts in autumn semester, four shifts in spring, and one in exam period. So overall, it’s reasonably flexible.

“Let’s be honest – the shifts (12 hours) are long and we can sometimes get difficult calls. But ultimately, there’s something about Nightlining that you simply can’t find anywhere else. You’ll see different sides to university life, you’ll learn more about yourself and fellow students, and you’ll have access to a unique experience that only a handful of students ever get. In the end, you’ll leave Nightline a better and more rounded person because of the things you’ve heard.”

Is the work rewarding?

“Nightline is one of the most rewarding things you can do at university. While others may never know what you did, you’ll leave each shift with a warm feeling inside of having known that you have been there for your fellow students. You’ll meet other people like yourself along the way, all from different courses and walks of life, and make friends to last a lifetime.”

Is training available for volunteers?

“Formal training occurs during a full weekend which covers everything you need to kick-start your role as a Nightliner. Due to the confidentiality of our internal training, I can’t go into further depth. The only way to find out is to apply and find out for yourself how great it is!

“Besides introductory weekend training, the most-part of training within Norwich Nightline is experience-based and passed down from more experienced volunteers through supervised shifts. The whole Nightlining experience from start to finish is an opportunity to develop your interpersonal skills – the more shifts you do, the more you’ll learn.

“We also expect volunteers to attend one supplementary training session per semester, which we do on a variety of topics. We expect volunteers to identify gaps in skills and ask for help where need be – often this itself leads to more supplementary training, or one-to-one help from someone more experienced. Whatever you need as a volunteer, Nightline will always have your back!”

What kind of hours do you work?

“Volunteering hours are 19:30-23:30 right now due to our reduced service during lockdown. However, when things go back to normal next academic year, our shifts run 20:00-08:00 each night during term time.”

On your website it says you run an instant messaging service, has that been popular?

“The instant messaging service has run for a long time, and is a frequently used method to contact Norwich Nightline. It’s fully anonymised and accessible to more people, providing a good alternative to those who don’t want to call.

“The IM service has been key to operating during this lockdown. It’s the only contact method that we are able to operate remotely, so it has been very useful. We’ve also temporarily shortened the volunteer hours temporarily from 8pm-8am to 19.30-23.30pm, this is to do with a lower amount of volunteers in the service and also accounts for the increased stress that home-working can provide.

“I’m a big believer that work and private life should be separate where possible, and so when we can move back to the office, we will. For now, however, it’s important for volunteer mental health that the shifts be shortened and IM-only. This keeps our service open to students, while at the same time safeguarding our volunteers.”

Is support available for volunteers?

“Yes, plenty! On shift, you’ll never be left alone with a contact or left unsupervised as a new volunteer. After any difficult contacts you are encouraged to debrief with other volunteers and this acts as a great way to enable peer-to-peer support and learning. The experienced volunteer you’ll be paired with will have been through what you’ve been through, and be able to give you most of the support and advice you need to be a great Nightliner.

“More formally, all Nightline volunteers also have bi-weekly check-ins with committee members, who act as a first line of support. Above that, we have two Internal Coordinators who are responsible for volunteer welfare and support. These usually meet with volunteers to address concerns, put in measures for support and provide signposting where necessary.

“As a volunteer, you are not allowed to call your own Nightline but will instead be allocated another Nightline to call if you need it. This keeps everything confidential and anonymous, and if you want to talk to someone but don’t want to get support internally, another Nightline remains an option to you.

“There are many other ways in which Nightline is able to provide support to it’s volunteers, including opportunities for fast-track counselling in severe cases. Details of this are confidential within the service and this, as well as other support opportunities, are covered in greater depth during our training weekend.”

How can students apply to become a volunteer?

“Our online application form can be found online and contains an assessment form for those applying. Those who are successful will be invited to our training weekend on the 24th and 25th of April. It’s as easy as clicking here.”
If you need help or have been affected by the contents of this article, you can contact Norwich Nightline here. Or, anyone can contact Samaritans FREE any time on 116 123, or email [email protected].