Initially, the Samaritans helped set up Nightline as a small, college-based project, at the University of Essex in 1970. London Nightline began in 1971, when two students died by suicide at Imperial College, and the students of Imperial wanted to support their peers more. Clearly, the needs of students who were struggling with university life were not being met. Thus, with the intention of expanding the network of services available to students, and seeing the early success of Essex Nightline, London Nightline was born. In the nearly 50 years since then, the organisation has evolved into a London-wide charity. In 1990 it moved from its original site in South Kensington to a space in the University of London Union (ULU), to reflect the nature of its service as a port in a storm for students from across London. In the summer of 2017, we moved into a purpose-designed office that is allowing us to expand our service even more.
Over the years Nightline has received recognition of the value of its service in many forms, and is now made up of around 40 locally-run services. The numbers of calls and emails have increased year on year, as has financial backing from an increasing list of universities, colleges, students’ unions and accommodation providers. This means it can afford to employ a full time sabbatical Coordinator, and as of 2017 a part-time Office Manager. As a charity, the helpline is supervised by a board of Trustees, and its work is supported by patrons from various walks of life.
The volunteers that keep the lines running every night during term time come from colleges and universities all over London. There are around 70 active volunteers at any one time. Approximately 40 new volunteers are trained and selected every year to replace those who move on. They are wonderful, dedicated people, without whom Nightline simply would not operate.
London Nightline does not restrict its activities to just one university, or even to those based in London; all higher education-related institutions are eligible to affiliate, although many of those that work with us are based in London. This means that the institutions the organisation deals with are very diverse and all require service from Nightline tailored to their individual requirements.
The organisation is continuing to develop. Standards of training and support are constantly being reviewed and updated, with the help of the Telephone Helplines Association and organisations such as the Samaritans. In 2016, we were one of the first services to introduce an anonymous instant messaging service that is integrated with our website, as we understand the importance of using services that appeal to students. As of 2018, it takes as many forms of contact as our phonelines.
The aim of Nightline is to provide a complement to established University Welfare services, as it operates out of their typical hours. Nightline does not give advice; we aim to listen and support rather than to dictate courses of action. Nightline also acts as a central information service on all aspects of life in London.
In 2020, we’ll be celebrating Nightline’s 50th Anniversary, and in 2021 we’ll have our own 50th Birthday! Stay tuned to see how you can get involved in the celebrations.