A Garden of Hope


With the help of the community, one woman is aiming to bring hope to Wales by building an organ donation memorial garden in Thornhill’s Northern Cemetery

Anna-Louise Bates is a woman on a mission. This autumn, at the end of National Organ Donation Week, she is aiming to open a Memorial Garden in Thornhill Cemetery. 

Anna-Louise’s story is one of tragedy, but also of hope.

In December 2015, just five days after Wales became the first part of the UK to introduce a soft opt-out system with regard to organ donation, Anna-Louise and her daughter Elizabeth tragically lost her husband Stu and son Fraser in a road traffic collision just outside Cardiff.

“Not long before Stu died, he had been insistent about discussing organ donation,” says Anna-Louise.

“We’d had family around for my father’s birthday and for some reason, Stu had brought up the topic for the second time in a few days. Therefore, when presented with the question of whether or not to donate their organs and tissues, that was one time in that horrific 24 hours that I didn’t have to think what my answer should be.

“Some weeks before, I had given blood and also as a solicitor, I was sadly well-versed with an understanding of medical procedures. However, the process of organ donation for me was still incredibly difficult and the miseducation, including that of the soft opt out/deemed consent aspect, was so apparent. I knew I needed to do something to attempt to make this pathway easier for other people.”

Stu,Fraser, Anna-Louise, and Elizabeth

So within six days, Anna-Louise set about creating a charity with the aim of making a positive change. 

“The charity’s mission is to educate and help spread the word on organ donation, support those people involved, and to break down the taboo around organ donation to get people talking,” says Anna-Louise.

Anna-Louise, along with her board of trustees, have managed to accomplish some great achievements.

his includes educating and supporting people both locally and internationally, including the use of their flagship animation called Fab Gift Of Life.

“We’ve had help and assistance from so many Welsh celebrities and friends, including Mike Young – he’s the man who invented Superted. He helped us create this animation, which has become a very effective tool at raising people’s awareness about organ donation. With the backdrop of Castle Coch, it has already been watched by over 8 million people globally and it also won the Charity Film of the Year Award in 2019.”

This animation has since been translated into eight more languages that the charity seeks to launch over the next few years. And it’s all part of Anna-Louise’s mission to improve the organ donation process here in Wales.

Anna-Louise has seen first-hand the benefits of organ donation. Her son Fraser’s heart went to a boy called Roman. Anna-Louise went to visit Roman in London, six years after donation. Anna-Louise found this visit life-changing.

“Seeing this little boy brimming with enthusiasm for everything, even though he’d been through an incredible amount already in his life, reinforced to me that I had made such an important decision that day.”

Through her charity work, Anna-Louise has always been looking at new ways to educate people on the benefits of organ donation, and to help change the process for the better.

“My focus has always been on education and support, but actually, there are so many other things that can be done; there are other ways that we can reach people,” says Anna-Louise.

Following on from being Charity of the Year for Cardiff Bereavement Services, the charity has been offered an area of land at the new Northern Cemetery in Thornhill, and approved by Cardiff City Council.

“It’ll be a reflective space which will encourage people to think about the positives of life rather than loss, and I’m delighted to be part of it. This garden is to honour those involved in donation while educating about the #FabGiftOfLife. We want this garden to be a national point of interest, highlighting Wales as being the trailblazers in adopting our new organ donation system. We wish to involve as much of the community as possible to add value, and also help raise the much-needed funds for this project.”

The garden is expected to open this autumn

The garden project is one that’s designed to provide positivity to those who visit.

“The garden incorporates a heart that we have been told will be seen from Google maps,” says Anna-Louise. “Around the heart, we hope to have stones in boulders and around that, we’ll have quotes from medics and donor families that we hope will provide comfort and support. We also hope that these will help alleviate some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding the area of organ donation. Animal sculptures will be dotted around to reflect other organs, all designed to educate and inform.

“At the top of the heart, there will be a replica of Castle Coch and a wall where you can find hand prints – it’ll allow you to place your hand in them and the point is to find your hand print match; you may even know that famous match!

“There will also be an umbrella shining through the Light of Life held up by our Fraser and Hope Bears. Next to our garden, the Council are building a Forget-You-Not Garden and that will largely be to remember people who died during the Covid pandemic.

“Within our garden, there will be trees with hearts which we will be dedicating to our Welsh deceased and living donors. They will be sent a heart to have in their home too, to celebrate their decision. Along with the order of St John that is presented to donor families, this will be a visible honour for that ultimate gift.”

Anna-Louise truly believes that together with the local community, she can make this vision a reality and with kind assistance from local professionals, she has produced a short film calling people to actively Fundraise, Action and Believe. Those who want to find out more or get involved in this project can see the video by visiting the website www.believeods.org.uk

The garden project tops a busy year for Anna-Louise, who will also be publishing her memoir later this Spring.

“Writing the book has been very hard. I thought that people would find it egotistical and boring and that everyone knew my story. However by writing the book, I realised that even I don’t know all of my story.”

Anna’s memoirs will be published later this spring

Anna-Louise explains:

“I can’t even remember how every bit of my story transpired and I certainly don’t know how it will end. All that is certain is that the thing that should never happen to anyone happened to me.

“We have all been through grief, or we will at some point. Death is part of life, and there isn’t a single person in this world who won’t have to deal with the repercussions of losing someone they love. And yet, despite that, we don’t deal terribly well with loss in our culture. We deflect and minimise, we mumble our condolences, and shuffle away as the bereaved person deals with the enormity, the unimaginable magnitude, of what has been taken from them.

“The book is the story of how I became the woman I am today, of how I loved and lost – and continued to love.  

“It’s the story of having my husband and my son ripped from me, and of how I, with my daughter, fought to survive. It’s the story of how grief continues to live alongside your new life. It’s the story of how you get through every second of every day with your heart breaking, but also the fight to do something to make a difference in memory of those who have gone.

“It’s a story of believing.”
Find out more about this project:

You can also be the first to read Anna’s book here: