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Life in lockdown: “Everyone deserves to be heard”

Nouse speaks to York Nightline and how their student services are continuing off campus

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Image Credit: York Nightline

'Life in Lockdown' is an interview series focusing on people, organisations or student societies who are adapting to isolation in interesting and innovative ways. If you’d like to talk about your experiences in lockdown or share how your student group has adjusted during the pandemic, email editor@nouse.co.uk; we’d love to hear from you.

This week in ‘Life in Lockdown’ I spoke to the amazing people of Nightline. Jack, Georgie, and Annie, a few of Nightline’s public faces, joined me on a Zoom call to discuss the phenomenal service Nightline provides for students at York, as well as how this has been affected through the lockdown period. Jack, Georgie and Annie are what is referred to in Nightline as ‘public faces’, meaning they were previously anonymous listeners for Nightline, but have since rescinded that anonymity in order to be able to promote and publicise the organisation.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with Nightline, I start by asking the team to clarify the basics of what the organisation actually does. Jack defines York Nightline as “a listening organisation run by students for students at the University of York and York St. John. It’s an active listening service which means we don’t give people advice, we don’t lead them in a certain direction and we don’t pass any judgements. We effectively act as a mirror to help people process their own thoughts about what they might be going through”.

“People can call for all all sorts of reasons, it might be for something they think is quite minor or it may be for something very very big but no problem is too big or too small, we can be contacted through dropping into our flat in Grimston house in Vanbrugh college, you can call us up, you can use our instant messaging service on our website which is a bit like Whatsapp or Facebook messenger, or you can email us about anything. We also curate an information hub which has a lot of information on everything, from takeaways and taxi numbers to professional mental health services that we can offer to callers when we feel we can't fully provide the services they may be asking for. We also offer sexual health supplies such as condoms, chlamydia tests and dental dams and more recently sanitary supplies also.”

With lockdown keeping Nightline off campus however, the organisation has had to limit its services with Georgie telling me that “sadly we are unable to deliver supplies anymore because of the implications in terms of hygiene, and the fact that very few people are at the University at the moment.” Despite this, York Nightline has refused to cease operations completely. Georgie tells me that “at the moment the only portion of our services that are currently operational is email, which are still replied to within 48 hours.”

In relation to this limited service, Jack reiterates that he thinks that “the email service is very different from the other three aspects of the service”, admitting that “it’s not as intuitive; it's not as conversational I suppose”. But, Jack makes it clear “it's still the same service; you can talk about anything and it will remain confidential, anonymous and we will fulfil our three nons: we’ll be non-directive, non-judgemental, and non-assumptive. Your email will be listened to and someone will provide a response. It may not be as conversational, but you will be listened to and will be replied to; whether you’re going through something very hard, very severe or whether you’re isolating on your own, you’re bored and you want to tell someone what you’ve been up to. The email to contact is listening@york.nightline.ac.uk.

“Alongside the email service we have our info hub on our website and within this is a page devoted to Covid-19 which is updated regularly with government guidance, university guidance from both YSJ and University of York.” Jack adds that “on that page we’re also trying to have pieces of information about how to support yourself during lockdown, during self-isolation, that sort of thing, as well as links to our other pages on the hub to do with all sorts of things like mental health. There’s a huge breadth of information on various things, I can’t think of half the things that are on there, it’s so broad.”

With there clearly still being a huge amount of effort going into these services, I ask what it is that motivates the team to continue their services in such an active way. Jack answers: “it’s really important, I think, the service we provide. It fulfills a niche as while there may be many people you can talk to, you may not feel comfortable talking about things when you can be identified and whatever you say might be shared with other people. You also might feel uncomfortable talking to friends and family about certain things. York Nightline fulfills that niche of being able to say something and discuss something in an environment where you know it’s not going to go any further.”

In relation to the circumstances we currently find ourselves in, Annie explains that “it’s important for us, I think, to still provide that service in some capacity, especially when, students continue to face all the challenges they would normally but on top of that its exasperated by the current situation of being in lockdown and not being able to access some of the coping mechanisms that people are usually able to utilise. I think people are therefore looking for new coping mechanisms and one of those could be talking and that’s why we wanted to remain open to provide an ear for people who not only use the service already but perhaps new users too”

Georgie says that “everyone deserves to be heard really,” making the important point that we’re living in a time where “so many services are likely to be oversubscribed as well so it is really essential that we keep going”.

Bringing it back to the idea that there is no problem too big or too small to go to York Nightline for help, Jack clarifies that “I think there's definitely going to be a lot of students out there who are just very much disappointed particularly final year students who aren't going to get to graduate, aren’t going to be able to see their friends again, people who’s universities and student journey has now ended on this down note and that disappointment is definitely a part of the huge range of things that we are happy to speak to people about.”

York Nightline clearly means a lot to those who use it and those who are so essential to its running, and so I ask each of the public faces the somewhat clichè question of what Nightline means to them. Georgie starts things off by opening up about the fact that, for her, “when I first got to University I was having a really rubbish time and I spoke to the head of welfare at my college and they recommended that I get in touch with Nightline”. Georgie explains that through using the service a few times she realised that “it was so nice to feel heard without getting anxious about any repercussions of what you said and it's really just a space of no judgment at all,  which is just so strange at first but brilliant.” She then explained that because of this experience she became inspired to join the organisation that had helped her. “I really think volunteering means just as much to us as it does to the callers because with everything else that’s going on, especially at Uni, it’s very easy to feel lost and sort of devoid of meaning and that you’re just going through the motions of your degree and everythings a bit hard but if you feel like you’re able to contribute, even in a small way, to making other people have a bit of an easier time that makes it all worth it”

Annie jokes that she might be responding to my clichè question with an even more clichè answer but insists that it’s the truth that York Nightline has really made her university experience. Telling me this is because “it's allowed me to learn about myself and also learn a lot about others whether that be through the privilege of being able to talk to callers or the pleasure of meeting some of the most caring and supportive people at Uni who volunteer for nightline: they’re unreal, really something else”.

Jack jokes about there being little left to say but still manages to give a very personal account of what York Nightline means to him: “ I always say I joined Nightline in the second year of an integrated masters, a four year degree, and now I’m in the second year of a PhD still talking about it, still representing it, still shouting about it.” Despite the length of his stint in the organisation, Jacks tells me that his “interest has never waned because it is so incredibly important and it means a great deal to a lot of people and, as Georgie said, everyone deserves to be heard. I know when I’ve had personal issues, being able to speak to someone and feel like I was being listened to properly has been absolutely massive and supper essential. Being part of York Nightline, you do get the humbling experience when speaking to callers that you are making a difference as well as being part of this amazing network caring people who are so varied in themselves, there's no two volunteers that are the same but they’re all so lovely and so dedicated.”

WIth the supportive network behind York Nightline clearly being a very important and very valued element of the organisation I ask how this has been affected by lockdown. Georgie answers that she thinks “it's been just as difficult for us as it has been for everyone in terms of being around the people you’re friends with. With Nightline, you’re working so closely alongside other people that naturally you do all become quite close. It's been tough especially for our final years who've just found out your degree is over on a random Friday in March. It’s just an insane situation to be in and everyone feels like they’ve had the floor taken out from under them a bit, but it’s no different to anyone else missing their housemates, course mates or friends from societies”. In terms of how Nightline is operating still, Georgie tells me that the “coordinators are doing a really good job of keeping everyone connected and updated. We’ve had lots of zoom meetings and so far, touch wood, it’s working pretty well.”

With these individuals clearly working so hard to support the students of York, I ask what the students of York can do to support Nightline. It’s a testament to the selflessness of this organisation that its public faces seem surprised by this question. Jack answers explaining that there’s probably three main ways that students can support Nightline, the first being raising awareness: “the nature of our organisation is that the majority of our volunteers are anonymous, so actually being able to publicise and talk about Nightline is restricted to a relatively small amount of volunteers, our public faces. This means that we’re limited in the number of people we have who are able to speak out loud about it and recommend our service to people if they want to speak to someone about something.”

The second key way to support York Nightline is through volunteering. “It definitely isn’t for everyone, but I know almost everyone who volunteers finds it a very rewarding, positive and humbling experience. The process is on our website if people want to find out more than that, but effectively we have training each term and you can find out more at our taster sessions which are always advertised on our social media”

The third way is through donation, however Georgie explains that “unfortunately we’re in between donation systems at the moment, but if people are interested in providing donations to us they can email us as nightline@yusu.org”. Georgie describes their current financial situation as a bit complicated, because “we are partly funded by YUSU but we take donations so we’re also funded by that. We’re obviously not able to get out and do real fundraising at the moment so that's making a difference.” Jack reassures that “the main thing to note is that any reduction in fundraising we’ve experienced hasn't affected our ability to provide the service in this period.”

When I ask how their recruitment of volunteers has been affected Georgie tells me that “as a result of the pandemic and no one being on campus, we’ve been unable to run our training weekend this term, as it’s very much an in-person thing. It depends how long this goes on for, but as things stand, we are unable to recruit and train new people.” Annie adds that “this could have a detrimental impact further down the line when we lose volunteers to graduation, so we could be in a situation where we have fewer volunteers”. Jack adds further however that “conversations are already being had on how we can mitigate this though, for example, training more people than we usually would next term, which is a strategy we’ve used in the past.” Despite admitting that it is a shame for those who were registered on the training weekend this term, they are confident that “as an organisation we can mitigate this.”

You can keep up to date with York Nightline service updates and their website through their social media channels at York Nightline on Facebook and @yorknightline on both twitter and instagram. These accounts are described as “especially important in lockdown” by Annie as they “provide service updates and we’ve also taken the opportunity to publicise our info hub more by posting a link a day for the week and by providing information on how people can use our service.” You can find thier information hub HERE and their specific Covid-19 page HERE.

I’m left in complete awe by this week's Life in Lockdown in the commitment that the members of York Nightline show to their organisation and to supporting York students. Despite this, the three insist that “the real praise needs to go to our anonymous volunteers who are still providing the service and are still being there for students in York. Our volunteers are looking forward to being able to get back and provide all services to students in York, when of course the government and University say that it’s the right time to do so.”

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