Bid to create biography for ‘legend’ Sheffield fundraiser John Burkhill

John Burkhill Make a Difference feature
John Burkhill Make a Difference feature
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Famous fundraiser John Burkhill has more stories than most to tell.

The 76-year-old former lorry driver has met the Queen – twice – carried the Olympic torch, won the Pride of Yorkshire and received the honour of a British Empire Medal for his tireless charity work over decades.

Thousands of people signed a petition for him to get a star on Sheffield’s walk of fame – and he’s met thousands more on his daily walks across the city wearing his green wig and pushing his trademark pram.

Now it is hoped all these memories, and a few more besides, can be captured in a new book on John’s life, which will also help him to realise his ambitious dream of raising £1 million for Macmillan. He has already raised £250,000 from collections alone, and around £400,000 when gifts from the Sheffield community are taken into account.

“For us John is a legend,” said Steve Loane, area fundraising manager for Macmillan in Yorkshire and Derbyshire.

“For one person to raise that amount of money – and we don’t receive any funding from the Government – is unbelievable.

“It also shows that small change goes an awful long way and there is a lot of public pride in what John does.”

The charity is hoping to raise £2,600 to create the book, which will hopefully be released next spring, and print 2,000 copies in the first instance.

John has already put pen to paper to start writing his incredible story, from when he was born in Darnall to him meeting royalty, and how he became known as the ‘mad man with the pram’.

The grandad, who has just completed his 951st event at the Great North Run after starting fundraising for good causes in the 1960s, said: “I’m no writer, let’s get that straight but I have had a couple of chapters written up and I was told it was good enough to be published, so I passed it on to Macmillan.

“I’m hoping we can go with my suggested title which is ‘distance is no object’ because that sums it up really.

“I’m very proud to be called the mad man with the pram, nowhere else in England has got one.”

John, who now lives in Richmond, began to help Macmillan after his wife June died of cancer, followed by his daughter Karen.

He received Macmillan’s highest honour, the Douglas Macmillan volunteer of the year award, on his 75th birthday and remains determined to reach the £1 million milestone.

“There isn’t a family in Sheffield, a family in the country, that hasn’t been touched by cancer,” he said.

“Macmillan is the best at helping those families, no doubt about that, they are brilliant.

“My brother didn’t want to die in hospital, so Macmillan got him back home and he died at home happily, they were fantastic.”

John became emotional when describing again what keeps him trekking across Sheffield in all weathers – the memory of a little girl with leukaemia who dropped coins into his collection tin as he walked up Barnsley Road. John said: “A few months later I saw her dad, he said she had gone now but if it was any consolation she was talking about seeing me for a week or two.

“As long as I can put one foot in front of the other I will keep going. I’ve got to get that £1 million.”

Macmillan is also looking to set up an annual Father’s Day walk in John’s name after a similar event a few years ago collected more than £15,000, and is searching for volunteers to organise the event.

To help John’s book appeal, businesses or individuals can make donations or take up sponsorship packages.

People can also choose to host events – and next week staff at The Star will do their bit with a bake-off and coffee morning.

n For more information contact Steve Loane on 07801 307045 or at sloane@macmillan.org.uk