Toma is trying to convince people to come and live in Italy’s second smallest region – a mountainous territory with a population of 305,000 that came into existence only in 1963, when it was relinquished by the neighbouring Abruzzo.
He is enticing them with cash: newcomers will get €700 a month for three years in return for settling in a village at risk of dying out. Of course, as with anything that sounds too good to be true, there are one or two caveats. But before we get to those, Toma makes the case.
“We offer tranquillity, no delinquency, fresh air, the purest water and a clean environment,” he said. “The people are very welcoming. You can leave your front door open and car unlocked with the keys inside without worrying … children can play freely in the streets.”
Surrounded by pristine countryside, both towns are well manicured. But they are among the 100 or so desperately in need of a population boost.
“We lose around 10 people a year to death, and only around four babies a year are born,” said Fabio Milano, the mayor of Roccasicura.
Roccasicura has a bar, grocery shop, chemist, butchers and artisanal cobbler. It’s one school was forced to close in 2011 due to a shortage of children. There is a church, castle and countless trails for trekking and mountain biking.
“For me, Roccasicura is the most beautiful town in Molise,” said Milano. “The main difficulty is that there are so few of us, which leaves us with little money to dedicate to services.”
Now for the small print: people who are given the monthly “residents income” must migrate to a town with fewer than 2,000 people and open a business. The business can be anything, while those who work remotely will also, be welcomed so long as they prove they are contributing to the economy, for example by buying or renting a home and signing up to services.
“This is not a gift, it’s more an assistance,” said Toma.
The scheme will initially be limited to 40 candidates, and if after a year things are going well, Toma will seek more funding for more people.