In May 1970 Professor Geoffrey Hosking (a lecturer and member of the Colchester Samaritans branch) and Malcolm France (an Anglican Chaplain) noticed the high levels of stress, anxiety and suicide amongst local students at Essex University. They believed that the mental anguish of these students could be alleviated if only they had someone to talk to. They trained a group of students to deliver emotional support to their peers over the telephone, and the first ever Nightline began.

The idea quickly caught on and in 1971 the concept was exported to Imperial College London. Since then many more Nightlines have been set up. Today over 2,100 specially trained student volunteers deliver an anonymous, confidential listening service at 36 affiliated Nightlines in the UK and Ireland. Now over 1.5 million higher education students have access to a Nightline service.

Forty years on and Nightlines remain committed to the core values of a confidential, anonymous, non-judgmental, non-directional, and non-advisory listening service for students, delivered by students.

Due to its success in the UK, the Nightline model has also been adopted by some universities in America, Canada, Switzerland, Australia and Germany.