‘Terry Gosden treated everyone as equal, a humble person with no power trips’

I met the late Terry Gosden (1956-2018) as a young reporter. But as I re-read our newspaper archives, I only just realise now the quiet revolution of solidarity he had sown in our hearts

“He treated everyone as equal, a humble person with no power trips”
“He treated everyone as equal, a humble person with no power trips”

Terry Gosden is one of the few great people I met as a young reporter.

I met him briefly and spoke to him on the phone frequently for work purposes. And only now that he is gone, I remember his self-effacing dedication having instilled in me the importance of human solidarity and how crucial the mission of social workers and trade unionists was in our lives – even for those who think they ‘will never be left behind’. I just wish I had spoken to him a bit more while not on duty.

Just a week since his passing at the age of 62, I can be thankful for having met Gosden at a time in my life when my heart had not been hardened by the cynicism of political reporting. In 2002 or thereabouts, University of Malta visiting lecturer Gary Armstrong – whose work dealt with criminology and football – introduced us to the portly Gosden, a former trade unionist and social worker at a men’s shelter, with a hangdog expression which however exuded friendliness and patience.

Gosden was an enlightened connoisseur of diversity and precarity who in 2004 started running the Marsa open centre at a time when migrant rescues prompted far-right demonstrations out in the Maltese streets. He was then one of the first people on the ground dealing with Malta’s new migration phenomenon.

“How we treat people reflects on us as humans and generations to come” was a gentle affirmation of his that I still remember to this day. Today I think of that intonation as a simple prayer rather than some lofty quote. Gosden was surely a man dedicated to those left out on the margins of life and society.

In 2004, Gosden moved from the Gzira homeless shelter Dar Leopoldo that was managed by Fondazzjoni Suret il-Bniedem, to manage the Marsa centre, also run by the same foundation.

“His management style and attitude were remarkable,” said Graffitti activist Andre Callus, who got to know Gosden at the Marsa open centre while visiting friends who were seeking asylum. “He treated everyone as equal, a humble person with no power trips.”

Callus says that even in the prevailing climate of treating migration as a national ‘problem’, Gosden struck out by taking a democratic and participatory-based approach to management. “The centre was ‘open’ in all senses, to residents, their friends and organisations working in the field,” he says, pointing to the fact that Gosden wanted migrants to contribute to the running of the centre itself.

“His management was one of constant dialogue and empowerment; not a top-down approach of ‘control’, but one that recognised the residents’ belonging to the place and their potential in creating a positive space that made their difficult lives in Malta more bearable.”

Callus mentions as an example Gosden’s encouragement for migrants to open small businesses within the centre. “These varied from restaurants and internet cafes, to bike-repair, barbers and tailors. Clearly, there were also many challenges. The centre’s structure was dilapidated and managing a small place with hundreds of people from different countries was no easy task.

“However, although the place was often reviled in the media as a hub of problems, in reality it was a vibrant hub of empowerment, solidarity and friendship. This was thanks to Terry Gosden and his genuine belief in the values of equality and human solidarity.”

He left Marsa in 2008, resigning abruptly after being subordinated by a board decision that wanted to introduce new management.

But he reappeared at the unlikeliest of places, as a specialist on third country nationals for the General Workers Union, just as the left-wing union was being accused of adopting a sceptic and at times, abrasive line on irregular immigration and asylum.

Notoriously, in 2008 GWU secretary-general Tony Zarb presented a policy document outlining principals on equal treatment for third country nationals, where he said that immigrant workers had become “a national scourge for our country”. In the same breath, Zarb pledged he would train his section secretaries on how best to handle Malta’s immigration issues. Which is where Gosden came in.

“We are now recognising that there is a new generation of people making up a new working class in Malta, who – because of their precarious position – are more in danger of being exploited and therefore require protection,” Gosden had said, underlying why the GWU had to look out for this unregulated workforce.

Gosden was a critic of the alarmist and right-wing discourse against migrants, often saying it was exaggerated to speak of a ‘crisis’ or ‘invasion’ in Malta. “I think some people are calling the current situation an invasion because they have the wrong information. I think we are failing to inform the public in a simple and logical format.”

Gosden knew that the Maltese public had a right to good information on asylum and migration, and had realised that the world had caught up with ‘welcoming and friendly’ Malta. “It’s in our generation’s hands now. What we do today will reflect on how future generations in Malta will live tomorrow.”

He embodied the values of trade unionism, by looking at asylum seekers not as a mere ‘identity’ section of society, but as part of the universal workforce itself. “It becomes automatic that a forward-thinking, progressive union protects workers regardless of their age, identity, skin colour, sexual orientation, religious belief or disability. These are the traditional pillars of the trade union movement, and I am very pleased that the GWU stands by this ideal.”

Today Gosden would walk down St Joseph High Street in Hamrun to see his own prediction having come true. “I think that integration in Malta is being led by the migrants themselves,” he had said. “They live in communities and even by purchasing everyday goods, they become consumers and get in contact with people, neighbourhoods and communities.

“They take part in community activities in churches or mosques, and therefore, create for themselves a network within the Maltese community. This way, they are judged on their abilities, honesty and integrity. This is how integration occurs.”

He saw asylum seekers as survivors of events that would have brought people like him to his knees. “The answer is not in Malta, it’s in Africa. What we do, and how we treat people, will reflect not only on us as human beings, but also on generations to come who are relying on us to make the right choices. I see no crisis, but a challenge.”

The tributes that poured in on Facebook came from former collaborators, such as the academic and former IOM liaison Maria Pisani who called Gosden a pioneer in the field of social justice. “It was a privilege to know him and work with him. You will be missed Terry.”

“I am sad and shocked,” said University pro rector Carmen Sammut. “Terry was an anchor in a sea of panic and mistrust.”

Terry Gosden died in Cornwall on 7 November, 2018. A memorial for Terry Gosden is being on 9 December at 11am at the International Centre in Valletta, also know as the 'Blue Door English', no. 210, Old Bakery Street, right under the St. Andrew's Scots Church

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