On a recent stay in Gozo, my family and I spent an enchanting and unexpected afternoon. Wandering through the gem-like city of Victoria on a sun-baked afternoon, we stumbled across the island’s former main hospital and, intrigued, went through the archway.

It was a place I remembered well from my childhood. My father, the late Dr Joseph Grech, formerly chief medical officer for Gozo and Comino, once had his office in the forecourt of this old site. I recall stopping by here as a small boy after school, running around the courtyard, trying to do my homework. Now his old doorway was boarded up. But it exuded memories.

As we wandered around the seemingly half-empty corridors, courtyards and buildings of this historic building, the sense of history was palpable. Was it foolish of me to imagine that new life could be breathed into these wonderful old walls, in the heart of Victoria, one of Europe’s most historic cities? 

I allowed my imagination to run free. Visions of a centre for fresh young minds sprang up, coming together in these beautiful surroundings, a new generation of inventors and thinkers, engaged in digital technology and the data revolution. A centre for learning that would link Gozo up to Malta’s already hugely successful ‘smart’ revolution. Malta is nothing if not adept at cleverly reinventing itself for every new era. 

Only a few days before, I had revisited the streets of Valletta, where centuries-old buildings have been brilliantly restored and now brim with fresh energy. Stylish offices, hotels, restaurants and shops retain the city’s unique historic flavour while feeling very much of the moment. Its grid-patterned streets felt to me like a miniature version of Manhattan. Valletta was after all one of the first grid cities in the world.

Gozo fully deserves a place for educating and inspiring the next generation of digital thinkers and doers

Back in Victoria, as we emerged from the old hospital into the newly renovated St Francis Square, it was clear to me that Gozo fully deserves a place for educating and inspiring the next generation of digital thinkers and doers. I could even see that boarded-up office of my father’s filled once again with new life.  

Co-working spaces or centres that bring people together, either freelance or as small companies, may seem out of sync with the current COVID zeitgeist, as so many are working remotely. But this crisis will pass, and when it does the time will be ripe for new ways of working.

Gozo’s excellent broadband and amazing scenery could make it a magnet for the new breed of ‘digital nomads’. These are workers whose skills allow them to base themselves anywhere. Once their laptop is open, they can log on and deliver their work in minutes from anywhere. So why not from an island in the sun, English-speaking, time-zone efficient, with business-friendly policies and a fabulous way of life?

It’s a formula that has already worked for others. Barbados recently introduced what it calls a Welcome Visa, enabling anyone from around the world to work remotely from ‘paradise’ for up to 12 months. Such a visa encourages work tourism, attracting some of the best and brightest to work from the Maltese islands, who may well go on to start new businesses, creating high-paying jobs and contributing to economic growth.

As I packed my bags to return home, I reflected on the happy fact that I had been able work remotely for the first week of my holiday without any issues whatsoever. But it would have been even better to have been able to base myself in a beautiful, open work space, where serendipitous meetings with others could create connections, share knowledge and unlock even greater potential.

Gerard Grech, CEO, Tech Nation and a former member of the UK Government’s Digital Economy Council

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us