‘Living memorial’ planned for Scots organ donors

A NEW national memorial for Scottish organ and tissue donors is to be created at one of the country’s leading visitor attractions, The Scotsman can reveal.

Alec Finlay, left, and colleague at the Royal Botanic Garden. Picture: Contributed
Alec Finlay, left, and colleague at the Royal Botanic Garden. Picture: Contributed
Alec Finlay, left, and colleague at the Royal Botanic Garden. Picture: Contributed

The secluded clearing in the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh will become home to a work of art which will take the form of a “living memorial”.

A small stone structure or miniature hut will be surrounded by a “wild garden” as part of the £65,000 project, which is being led by the Scottish Government.

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It is aimed at creating a “lasting tribute” to those who have given their organs, as well as offering a space for quiet contemplation to anyone whose lives have been touched by organ donation or transplantation.

Edinburgh artist and poet Alec Finlay – who specialises in work which interacts with nature – was commissioned to design the memorial.

It is earmarked for a wild glade area near the east gate of the attraction, just off Inverleith Row, in part of the Botanics screened from houses and roads.

A memorial for donors was created for Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow 14 years ago.

Made of Scottish hardwoods, a “loveseat” allowed families of donors to add a silver leaf as a tribute. However, there is now limited space left.

Families of donors, transplant recipients and healthcare professionals are on a working group set up to create a new memorial. The group involves representatives of Creative Scotland, the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop and the Botanics.

The brief for the project – which is expected to be unveiled in August – sought proposals which would “celebrate the kindness of giving and sharing.”

Mr Finlay, who has staged exhibitions at Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Baltic arts centre in Gateshead, recently created works of art to mark the renovation of Edinburgh University’s main library.

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He had a residency at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre in Glasgow.
The 47-year-old explored “every nook and cranny” of the Botanics before selecting the wild glade area for his creation, which he has titled: “Tigh, House: a memorial home for a wilding garden.”

Small healing stones are expected to be placed inside the structure.

He said: “I really wanted to be involved in this project. There is no better task for an artist or poet than to respond to complex and deep emotions, which this memorial is bound to bring up. It will be challenging, of course, because you’re dealing with people’s experiences.

“There is a relationship between life and death through the gifting of organs. It’s a remarkable thing and yet it exists within a health system that belongs to all of us in Scotland.”

Sandra Warden, from Clydebank, donated her daughter Rachel’s organs, saving three lives, after the 11-year-old suffered a brain haemorrhage.

Rachel, whose grandfather was given a life-saving kidney transplant, later made her parents promise to donate her organs if anything happened to her.

Ms Warden said: “Having a national memorial to recognise and remember all those who, in death, were able to give the greatest gift of all – that of life – is very important.

“I hope it will make people think about donation and discuss with loved ones what they would like them to do if anything happened to them. From when she was very young Rachel understood organ donation.”

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Gill Hollis, from Edinburgh, who received a lung transplant a decade ago and is also on the working group, said: “My transplant anniversary is now more important than my real birthday and I try to make the most of every day, not just for me and my family, but also for the person whose life saved mine.”

Public health minister Michael Matheson said: “Through the selfless generosity of organ donors and their families many lives are saved. It is right and fitting that we should acknowledge the gift that is given through organ donation with a public memorial.”