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Jodie Ferris (Co-president for Exeter Nightline) on the left and Emma Meehan (Co-President) on the right pitching their AU training to all university sports clubs during their AU training day in the week before Freshers’ Week 2019

Student society Exeter Student Nightline wins National Award

Exeter Student Nightline is a student-led volunteer helpline for students, and this month were awarded the ‘Nightline of the Year’ award, supported by Accenture at the Nightline Association (NLA) Spring Conference. Nightline is a service that offers peer support at universities, and this is particularly needed in a time when students are unable to access their usual welfare and wellbeing support due to the COVID-19 outbreak. We caught up with current Nightline Co-President, Emma Meehan, to find out more about the award, the important work the group does supporting students, and their achievements this year.

The NLA is a chartered society that groups together the 39 accredited Nightline groups across universities in the UK and provides support to the individual services, so Emma says it was “absolutely amazing” to get such recognition for their work on a national level this year.

This work includes the Exeter Student Nightline group continuing to offer support for students during the current COVID-19 outbreak. They successfully opened an encrypted, anonymous email service within 36 hours of the University closing, just a week before the UK lockdown happened, with the help of the Nightline Association in order to replace their usual phone helpline. They are keeping this service open throughout the entirety of summer in order to continue to provide vital support, and Exeter Student Nightline also now features on the iExeter app, allowing all students to access direct support to their service lines in moments of need.

The past year has seen many great moments and achievements for the group who were hard at work supporting students even before the additional demands the COVID-19 outbreak created. For instance, for World Mental Health Day (WHMD) 2019 they held a Rock Campaign that featured on social media platforms across the University, spreading positivity and positive well-being by hiding rocks with positive messages around campus for students and staff to find. A number of societies and students shared the rocks they found hidden across campus during that week that had brightened their days.

The group has been investing in training to support other societies, which included developing free bespoke Welfare Training open to all AU society committee members that reached 13 different AU sports societies and aimed to improve Mental Health awareness, understanding and inclusivity within their societies. This in turn inspired the Guild society welfare training, which Exeter Student Nightline delivered Active Listening Training as part of the program to promote the skill to the wider student society community.

They have also secured monthly extra training from external organisations for Nightline volunteers throughout the year. Emma says: “This allowed volunteers to get a better understanding of certain topics, which affect the student population, and to increase their confidence in call taking. Some notable sessions were LGBT+ Training delivered by the Intercom trust and Sexual Assault training delivered by FirstLight. We also worked with the AccessAbility and Welfare teams at the university to provide a mitigation and welfare at Exeter information session for volunteers to ensure they are able to provide the most accurate signposting and information to students in need.”

In addition to this the group developed a new welfare safety net to provide volunteers with options that enable them to prioritise their personal welfare and to ensure volunteers are in the right headspace to be able to provide the highest quality of service.  The group’s welfare secretary also organised weekly and monthly society drop-ins and events where volunteers came together to relax and spend time with fellow volunteers - this included a ‘Letter of Kindness’ session and a second Rock painting session following the success of their WMHD campaign.

Exeter Student Nightline were also awarded a three year grant from the Alumni Annual Fund in 2016-17 and the £2,342 they’ve received so far has made an incredible difference to support volunteers by funding breakfasts after their shifts as the Nightline service runs 8pm – 8am.

At the beginning of this year, the group set up an Exeter Alumni Facebook group to reach out to previous volunteers and to ensure they are able to stay in touch with volunteers who leave the service to provide them with updates and news. This has allowed them to create a sense of community and they hope to create links in the future with alumni who may be interested in getting involved with the service in other ways. If you are a Nightline alum do visit the group to keep in touch and find out more.

You can also find out more about the group’s work online, visit their Guild page, and watch a great promotional video that was released in September 2019 in the lead up to Fresher’s Week, and explains the basics of Nightline and the support students can receive.

Date: 23 April 2020

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