Nightline: “young people have been the hardest hit by lockdowns..”

4th June 2021

Sarah Rees headshot

Sarah Rees

Joe NightlineFor those who dedicated university evenings to parties, it’s humbling and heartening to hear that over 2,700 students at 36 Nightline centres across the UK and Ireland sacrifice their nights out to deliver a ‘confidential, anonymous listening and information service’ for peers in need. This is Nightline, a unique movement largely run by students, for students. Nightline Association, which enables the movement, is one of the eight mental health charities that Nominet supports via the #RESET Mental Health funding programme.

The strategic spending of their £48,000 grant was spearheaded in part by Joe Martin (pictured above right), a Nightline trustee (although soon outgoing) who had digital experience via various full-time roles, including developing online volunteer management infrastructure when working as National Head of Volunteer Development at the Prince’s Trust.

Joe recognised the value in overhauling Nightline’s digital infrastructure and security protocols. “We were 100% remote even before the pandemic,” he explains “but it’s become more and more important to make our systems resilient and easier for our many volunteers to use.” Another project funded by the grant was an Intelligence Dashboard to collate and analyse anonymised data collected at the various Nightlines, helping the charity to make more strategic, data-driven decisions.

“We aspired to make more data-driven decisions but it was just never in an accessible format” says Joe. “Now we can review it all in real time, which helps us identify the biggest areas of challenge, make the best use of our money and tailor our support to Nightlines.”

Making best use of financial resources is key for any charity where money is usually scarce – Nightline has just one paid member of staff. Emily Wheeler (pictured below left), Chair of the Board of Trustees, explained how the Nominet team helped them to shape their plans for the #RESET grant. “The process of working with Nominet was quite exceptional,” recalls Emily. “It was so consultative; we had open discussions and the guys helped us shape our ideas to make sure that we were really using this money as a means of making Nightlines more sustainable and effective.”

Emily Nightline

Two issues the charity is hoping to tackle more effectively – both of which had been noticeable trends pre-pandemic – are sexual violence and suicide. “We’ve offered more training and support to the volunteers to help them cope with these issues as they are coming up more often in calls,” Emily explains. “Recent research has shown that there hasn’t been a rise in suicides in the early stage of the pandemic, which researchers think is partly down to all the community and financial support packages we’ve seen during lockdowns, but the concern is what happens when restrictions are lifted, especially for young people who have in some ways been hardest hit by lockdowns.”

Some of the research that contextualises Nightline data comes from Emily’s day job. She is Head of Philanthropy and Partnerships at MQ, a mental health research charity, where “often the reports we produce are incredibly useful for Nightline; there’s a nice cross-over.” Both MQ and Joe’s employer, Citizens Advice, are very accommodating of the pair’s trustee commitments, recognising the importance of voluntary work and the value of the skills gained.

“People told me being a trustee would be like doing a mini MBA and it really is,” says Emily. “You’re learning so much about charity governance and strategy, gaining great leadership skills.” Joe was attracted for similar professional reasons, although both reveal personal connections to the charity and its work.

“I had anxiety when I was a teen, and struggled with self-harm,” admits Emily, “and to be honest I didn’t get much support. Even the GP didn’t really know how to help me. That’s why I am so drawn to these charities that are providing the kind of support I know would have been so helpful and that I have used myself when I had nowhere else to turn.”

Joe has experience on the other end of the line (pun intended): he was a volunteer at Nightline while at university, having “recognised that other students were going through challenges that I wasn’t.” It proved to be a life-changing decision. He became heavily involved with student fundraising and found it helped him to grow his confidence; “I was doing things I’d never done before – I was organising events, speaking to rooms full of people and I even climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. And the people you meet doing charity work are just fantastic, so motivated to make a difference.”

Emily agrees, adding that the friends she has made through her work in the third sector are what helps her manage the workload and emotional subject matter. “It’s great when your friends totally get it and you can talk about your work with them; it does help you manage the pressure.”

Charities are always eager for trustees and Emily stresses the importance of getting younger people interested in these roles; both her and Joe are in their 30s. “Young people have so many skills that boards really need. That diversity of age is just as important as everything else, especially for charities that work for and with young people.”

In the growing area of mental health support for this key demographic, the ideas and experiences of younger trustees are even more crucial. “I’m not sure if we are simply talking about it more or whether the issues are increasing,” concludes Emily, “but mental health support services and research are needed now more than ever, especially as the long-term impact of the pandemic on young people at that formative age isn’t yet fully understood.”

Find out more about Nightline on their website. The board is currently seeking a new Communications Trustee and will be looking for a new student Trustee later in the year. More details about the opportunity are available on the Nightline vacancies page.      

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