WITH his bright green wig and battered Silver Cross pram, John Burkhill is as much a part of Sheffield as the city’s streets on which he walks every day.
And he knows those streets very well.
Since he stopped working as a truck driver more than seven years ago John Burkhill, from Darnall, has spent every day of his retired life walking miles across Sheffield with his pram, green wig and big foam hand, with which he gives children ‘high fives’ - and all to raise money for charity.
At the moment he’s on a mission to raise a whopping £250,000 for Macmillan and already he’s raised £130,000 - thanks to his tireless efforts.
“Every ten pence someone puts in the bucket is ten pence more for Macmillan. It all helps,” says the 72 year-old.
“People think I’m barmy but as long as I can put one foot in front of the other I’ll continue to do this.”
But John was raising money for charity long before he went full-time in 2004.
He has been long-distance walking, speed walking, running and jogging for decades - and all for charity.
But inspiration to commit to fundraising seriously came after he lost his 29-year-old daughter Karen and his 55-year-old wife June within a short period of time.
“My daughter had gone in to have a small polyp removed from her stomach but didn’t come round from the general anaesthetic. June developed cancer straight after that and died the following year.”
Before her death, though, she had one wish - which John was able to fulfil.
“I’ve always raced in marathons and did The Star Walk every year so I had quite a few medals at home. When June was really ill she said to me ‘you’ve got all these medals and I’ve got nothing’.
“So I rang the organisers of the Sheffield Marathon and made a special request to push June in her wheelchair. They let us do it.
“It was in June and it seemed to be about 90C but we got to the end and everyone stood up to greet us. I was in tears and I’m not ashamed to say it.
“The doctor came up to me and said ‘that’s done her more good than any medicine’.”
John was exhausted after the race but he didn’t care. “If she’d have asked me to push her to Land’s End I’d have done it.”
But there’s another person who inspires John to do what he does.
“Years ago, when I was walking with the pram and this car pulled up. This little girl came over and said ‘can I put some money in your bucket?’.
I said ‘yes’ and gave her a high five and then her father came over to me - in tears - and said: ‘She’ll be talking about that for the next three days now’.
“He explained that she had leukaemia and the doctors couldn’t say how long she had to live. That made my eyes fill up. Whenever I have a bad day I think of that little girl’s face and it gives me something to fight for.”
John makes a daily visit to the Northern General’s Palliative Care Unit, which treats people with terminal illness but despite seeing people suffer on a daily basis, as well as dealing with his own loss, he keeps faith.
“That lad up there doesn’t always get it right,” he says.
“Cancer doesn’t discriminate either. It effects us all in some way or another.”
His fundraising efforts aren’t limited to cancer charities: “I’ve raised money for every charity you can think of, including Weston Park, an Alzheimer’s charity, dog charity, cat charity and lots of schools.”
It’s all done with his tatty, well-worn Silver Cross pram, which - staggeringly - dates back to the 1950s and has walked with John for thousands of miles.
“I’ve done Lincoln to Sheffield, Skegness to Sheffield, Blackpool to Sheffield, Land’s End to Sheffield and Rhyll to Sheffield.”
Luckily, for the faster, more ambitious jaunts, his pram can be adapted to ‘sports mode’.
“I can lower it here,” he says, pointing to a metal bar and about half-an-inch of gaffer tape.
But while he’s trekked across the UK, the route that’s particularly special to him is that of the old Star Walk, which starts at The Star and heads through the city and up towards Herries Road.
“This is a particularly special route because I always did The Star Walk, which was a speed walk race and the most spectacular event in Sheffield. There would be crowds of thousands watching - it was fabulous.”
John’s current mission is to walk from The Star, where he keeps his beloved pram, to the Palliative Unit and then back down Herries Road via Hillsborough.
With his current route he’s aiming to reach 1,000 miles by November 7 at 2.30pm.
“I’ve done 700 and odd miles so I’ve got another 290 to go and then I’m done.”
Well, not quite. On December 1 John starts another walking mission, for which he’s being supported by Singh’s convenience stores.
“I’m going to walk between the three Singh’s shops every day - which means walking between Herries Road, Cheetham Road and the Manor - that’s a big circuit and it will finish on December 31.”
Last weekend John shifted into his ‘sports mode’ for the Great Yorkshire Run, which he completed in one hour and a half.
“I stopped for a cuppa and a load of kids wanted high fives but I did okay,” he says.