Interview with Noel Formosa, Mayor of San Lawrenz
Noel Formosa has been Mayor of San Lawrenz since 1994 when the local council was established. Apart from his 26-years long experience as a mayor, Formosa has worked as Gozo Regional Representative and Vice President of the Region of Gozo.
Formosa has also served in the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), in the Council of Europe and as Vice President of the European People’s Party (EPP) Group in the CoR. He is also skilled in nonprofit organizations, Negotiation, Advertising, Event Management, IT and Editing.
Mr Formosa, how would you describe the locality of San Lawrenz to our audience?
Welcome to San Lawrenz, an inspiring locality… where community matters. We are blessed with the most spectacular scenery, nature, geology, unique flora and fauna, magnificent sea with the most spectacular seabed, architecture, history but most of all with a charming community when one feels at home from the very moment he/she enters San Lawrenz.
George French Angas the English explorer in his first book “Rambles in Malta and Sicily” published in 1842 when he visited the Island of Gozo, mentions his visit to San Lawrenz, particularly to the area of Dwejra, and outlined not only the unique beauty of Fungus Rock and the surroundings, but felt the need to highlight the warm welcome he received as soon as he came to San Lawrenz.
One of the most prominent tourist sites of Malta was the Azure window. Although the famous natural formation collapsed in 2017, the Dwejra bay retains its powerful attractiveness among tourists, filmmakers and divers.
What is it like to be a mayor of such a small village: how do you communicate with the other residents; how do you involve them in the decision-making process and public life?
I am privileged that I have served and am still serving my community after more than 25 years, being the first mayor of my locality at the age of 22. “Small is beautiful”, so the fact that I practically know each and everyone in the village, makes it easier to communicate, listen, understand and work on the needs of my residents.
Another priority for me is also to make welcome those who decide to reside in San Lawrenz. I make sure that I meet and get to know the new “Lawrenzjani” and above all to see them integrating with the rest of the community.
We have residents originating from UK, Europe, Alaska, even coming from China. It is nice to see many of these even if they do not speak Maltese, participating in our NGOs such as the football team, the folkgroup, the annual festa, drama, and other activities.
We are a living community thanks to the participation of everyone! We are a cosmopolitan sensible cosy community, our priorities and politics are based on such principles. We believe that politicians are there to serve the people, the human being is the centre of every decision we take.
Civil pride is very important for us. People belong to the community, from children to the old; in fact, we are very busy on social media.
A case in point is the reading sessions on the local council’s Facebook page. As soon as the state decided to close the schools due Covid-19, we were proactive and offered daily reading sessions for children.
We are also sensitive to the new needs in the health sector, throughout these last 3 years we have embarked on a project to make our community a dementia friendly community. I am proud to say that we came runners up in the European Destination of Excellence (EDEN) Award for Health and Wellbeing Tourism.
How has life in San Lawrenz and on the island of Gozo changed since the Covid-19 pandemic began?
This is a very challenging moment, globally. This is also a challenge for San Lawrenz and Gozo. Life has changed in a very short time.
No one was prepared, but everyone is trying to adapt to this “new” way of life. I believe that this is not a “period”, this is a new way of living and we have to learn to adapt to it.
Many of the activities had to be cancelled and we don’t know when the actives will resume. For many of those who kept their jobs, they struggle to stay as safe as possible.
Others already lost their jobs, and others are on lockdown in their own houses. In all these scenarios I believe that respect has been the order of the day, and that is very positive. I see that the sense of community has been augmented.
What has the local government of San Lawrenz done to guarantee the safety of citizens and visitors in this context?
As already mentioned, we adopted and provided for all the needs of our community in a very short time. Apart having reading sessions daily for children we catered to see that our housebound people are safe and cared for.
Together with the service providers in the community, such as the grocer, the parish authorities, the pharmacy and others we provided for the needs and we also organized ourselves to see that no one felt lonely at this particular time.
We communicated with the people living on their own. We kept an eye on the cleanliness and the upkeep of the village. Education material about the virus and the safeness were published.
The existing Facebook group with its members all the residents in San Lawrenz named “Just to be together, one big family Lawrenzjani” served as the first focal point to give immediate information. Another group YouSafeSanLawrenz was created to support this aim.
What kind of tourist season do you foresee in summer 2020 and how do you adapt to the new circumstances? In what ways do you cooperate with the other local councils of Gozo to face the coronavirus threat?
This is going to be a very challenging tourist season, it is an unusual one. Our locality is one of the most visited sites in Gozo by tourist, I am referring to the area of Dwejra Bay. Many, especially those who works in the sector are going to suffer.
On the other hand this is also an occasion to reflect about the importance of taking care of the environment, especially the sea. The national Government is offering emergency aid to those who lost their jobs, however experts are predicting that especially the tourism sector will need more time than other sectors to recover.
This makes us think about how to be more creative and flexible to bend without too many serious consequences in the new circumstances. I believe that interesting times are ahead, and I am sure that this is also a learning curve for us to become more aware and proactive.
We need to invest more on education and skills by giving incentives to young people to embark on courses that will most be needed post covid-19 especially in IT. We need to help our people to make them aware of how to save and spend their money well.
We will see that cooperation between all local councils will be one of the major keys to surviving. We are seeing it happening during this time when we are in perfect synergy to share together good practices.
Is there any project or an innovative practice from your locality that you believe is worth sharing with the other mayors in the European Union?
What I said about synergy between us local councils on the island of Gozo I extend it to my fellow mayors in the European Union. It is and will be important more than ever that together we understand and fully make use of solidarity one of the most important principles of the EU.
We need to keep using and rediscover the importance of twinnings and exchanges. Life after Covid-19 will need more compassion, we need to look after ourselves and our neighbors’ and both tools, twinnings and exchanges, offered by the EU fits perfectly in the immediate time to come.
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Mayor Bakoyannis acknowledged the municipality’s omission of such initiatives until now
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