Henrik Rasmussen: In Vallensbæk, we quickly translate words into action
An interview with the Mayor of Vallensbæk
Henrik Rasmussen was born in September 1971. He has a bachelor’s degree in Architectural Technology and Construction Management as well as a master’s in Project Management and Organisational Change.
In 2002, he became the Deputy Mayor of Vallensbæk and was then elected Mayor in 2010. In 2019, Rasmussen spoke to TheMayor.EU to discuss the municipality and its projects. The full interview is available here.
Now, he has addressed the outbreak of the pandemic and what the municipality has done to support Vallensbæk’s citizens and businesses.
Mr Mayor, how has Vallensbæk been affected by the pandemic over the past year and a half?
The nursing homes for elderly citizens in Vallensbæk were struck by the pandemic at a very early stage – several of the residents died due to COVID-19. At the time, the situation was new to all of us, and we didn’t have guidelines from the state health authorities to lean on yet.
We had to act very quickly, and we established an isolation facility in the parking lot of one of the nursing homes. The isolation facility consisted of trailers of the kind normally used by work crews. This way, we could provide care for the infected citizens while keeping them separated from those who were not infected.
Children in daycares and several schools were sent home in isolation, and many local businesses lost a lot of their earnings.
Vallensbæk prides itself in having a strong community. How have citizens helped in the fight against the virus?
Many citizens volunteered to help where it was needed when the pandemic was at its peak. Our nursing staff was busy taking care of the elderly citizens, so it was greatly appreciated that volunteers would lend a hand at the test centres and vaccination centre.
It was still professional staff that carried out the actual tests and vaccinations, but the volunteers helped out with a lot of the logistics; for example, taking on tasks in regards to parking and queuing, answering questions, escorting vulnerable citizens from their homes, etc.
We recruited a group of students from our schools to become “corona ambassadors”. They came up with ideas on how to nudge their peers to adhere to the guidelines.
Also, when important messages and guidelines came from the state health authorities, the clubs and associations of Vallensbæk helped communicate them out to their members.
Nature has allowed residents to engage in physical activity during COVID. What has your administration done to support and promote this?
Luckily, Vallensbæk has many parks and recreational areas, and the teachers were quick to take advantage of this. A lot of the classes were carried out outside. That, of course, meant more physical activity for the students – with the added benefit of the children learning more about the area.
This has added new dimensions to the way the schools work, and we have subsequently allocated funds to improve the outdoor teaching facilities around schools and children’s daycare centres.
Also, in general, our citizens have taken advantage of our green spaces and natural areas during the pandemic when many people were working from home. They have done so to a degree that we, at one point, had to put up ‘one way’ signs around a popular lake to make people walk the same way!
Expanding on the previous question, what initiatives have been launched to support citizens during this difficult time?
For months, many citizens were mostly confined to their homes and couldn’t engage in their usual activities, so we tried to come up with alternative activities.
Our activity centre for elderly citizens started an online “tv channel”, the nurses went online giving tips to new parents about baby food – and I invited the citizens to online meetings on Instagram.
The library was closed, but we offered “book bags” with pre-selected books that citizens could come and borrow. The bags were handed out the window.
Every year, we throw a party to celebrate athletes from Vallensbæk who have won medals in national or international championships. This, of course, was not possible during the lockdown, so we moved the celebrations online. Beforehand, I had handed out goodie bags to the participating athletes, and then we met online and had a digital party with video, sound, confetti, and all.
What is Vallensbæk Municipality doing to ensure the post-COVID recovery of businesses and the economy?
Quite early during the lockdown, we realized that our local businesses were challenged with their income. So, to support local builders, we decided to advance renovation projects on our buildings. We also made a point of paying bills to local businesses immediately in order to maintain their liquidity.
Helping unemployed citizens find a job is one of our obligations as a municipality, and it has been a challenge to find work for people who were laid off during the lockdown. For example, our staff has worked with people in the entertainment industry and tried to help them find employment in transportation or other areas.
As a mayor with a lot of experience, what projects or advice would you like to share with other European leaders on our platform?
Having a crisis staff during this pandemic has been a great tool for us. The crisis staff is a group consisting of myself and a number of key people who would meet online on a daily basis and discuss the current state of the crisis.
Because of Vallensbæk’s size, we are able to act quite agilely. We could quickly take in information and statistics from the health authorities and act on it. In Vallensbæk, we quickly translate words into action.