A CONFIDENTIAL support service founded at Essex University, but now available to more than 1.6 million students, is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Nightline was born from a conversation between three students - Marilyn Griffin, Maggie Barwick and Flick Mesger - in the ground floor flat of William Morris Tower at the University of Essex in early 1970.

For some time they had been providing a listening ear to fellow students, but they wondered if there was a different way of providing support, particularly at night when students may feel at their most vulnerable but other services are closed.

With help from the university chaplain the Rev Malcolm France and Professor Geoffrey Hosking, who were both involved with the Samaritans, the first group of Nightline volunteers was trained in the principles of active listening and empathy.

On May 7, 1970, in a disused prefab office on the edge of the university grounds, Essex Nightline opened its lines for the first time. Within three days, they had their first call.

Within a year, the Nightline concept was replicated at Imperial College London, and by 1972 nine Nightlines had opened across the country.

Today, there are 39 services across the UK and Ireland which are affiliated to the Nightline Association.

Between them, Nightline services cover 120 Higher Education institutions and give 1.6 million students access to confidential listening support.

There are also Nightline-inspired services across Europe, the USA and Canada.

Ms Griffin, one the three students involved in the original conversation in 1970 said: “From the beginning, Nightline was for students, by students.”

That remains true today. The service is founded on principles of anonymity and non-judgement allowing students to talk to someone who understands what it means to be a student.

Nightlines play a key part in the cocktail of support offered at university, providing a local service, supported by a nationwide network.

Essex Nightline is now a telephone, email and drop-in service with 70 volunteers, assisting students every night of term from 10pm to 8am.

Essex Nightline co-ordinator, Eassa Hirsi, said: “Fifty years is a huge milestone and Essex Nightline has grown and developed in numerous ways.

“The volunteers being students is important to the purpose of Nightline as we are built on the notion that students find it easier to talk to other students.

“We hope this service is present and valued within the Essex community for the next 50 years.”

n The Nightline Association is looking to reconnect with Nightline alumni and gather stories from student callers, volunteers and supporters from across the last 50 years.

You can find out more at www.nightline.ac.uk/NL50 or contact them at fifty@nightline.ac.uk.

Nightline is important for volunteers, as well as those who use the service, as Geoffrey Hosking said recently: “Nightline is an important part of student education. It enables students to learn the art of listening attentively and sympathetically while someone talks through personal problems. That isn’t a traditional university speciality, but the experience certainly helps to equip one with both professional and personal skills in later life.”