Mayor Bert Berghoef from Aalten

Neighborliness as ‘social support’ to neighborly assistance

Authentic ‘neighborliness’ is in many rural areas the most natural thing in the world. People of smaller communities are there for each other, especially in times of emergency. This most authentic form of ‘social support’ is in the municipality Aalten an important cornerstone of HeartsafeLiving, knows Mayor Bert Berghoef.

Neighborly assistance

Rural mayor says that in his municipality years ago, when the AED in the Netherlands was still in its infancy, all votes went up for neighborly assistance: “Everyone in our town knows his neighbors. And will provide assistance in the area when someone is in distress.” At the city hall it required a decision making process though.

Social support

The inhabitants of De Heurne – a village near Dinxperlo – didn’t wait for the political-administrative procedure and started enthusiastically. “And that was exactly what we needed in the municipality,” reflects the quite pragmatic Berghoef back. De Heurne emerged as a pilot project with the main effect that the spontaneous social support resulted in the emergence of broad political and administrative support for neighborly assistance.

6 minute limit

This resulted to an information meeting with support from the municipality in 2011. A working group was established with representatives from the neighborhood and village associations in the municipality. The conclusion was that despite the excellent first-response of the fire departments in the region additional neighborly assistance was very welcome. Professional ambulance services in rural areas simply don’t have the ability to be anywhere within the 6 minute limit. The deployment of neighborly assistants is therefore very valuable.

Cardiac arrests

Berghoef also received incentive to work with neighborly assistance in cardiac arrests from different angle. At a small meeting of the Safety region Northern and Eastern Gelderland (VNOG) Aart Bosmans, director of HeartsafeLiving, gave a speech. “Bosmans spoke to me very directly: ‘your municipality is not yet heartsafe, is it?’ That impressed me absolutely and shows the commitment from HeartsafeLiving as organization. For me that was absolutely an additional trigger to stay in touch with this issue.


HeartsafeLiving is for us not a project, because a project is finite. And neighborly assistance is permanent as we are concerned,” says Berghoef. “That means it needs maintenance, for example in the form of training. And you must ensure that you maintain enough volunteers. The biggest threat in our community is thereby aging. And after care is of great importance. For it must be that volunteers continue after an unsuccessful resuscitation and are equally driven to provide assistance to an emergency the next time.

Involving citizens

From our own experience, Berghoef has some tips for other municipalities: “Involve as many people in your plans. Because without public support, it is really difficult. Allow the creation to be organic by laying down impulses in the society.” Fellow municipalities that want to be heartsafe should always knock on the door of the city hall in Aalten. Berghoef will receive them with open arms to share experiences: “Learn from each other. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel.