One of the first steps for Dame Sarah Storey, the new Active Travel Commissioner for the Sheffield City Region, was to take a stroll with commuter Darshana Dholakia to chat about everyday walking.

“I’ve been walking to work and back since September and I feel fitter, I’ve lost weight and it gives me chance to get my thoughts in order on my way to and from work,” said Darshana from South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive, who started commuting her 2.2 mile work journey as part of the organisation’s ‘Little Big Changes’ active travel initiative.

“Not everyone is going to be an elite athlete, but we can all enjoy being more active – even if that’s just walking the kids to school, walking to the bus stop or railway station, or walking between meetings instead of driving. Every little piece of activity adds up and, together, makes a real difference,” said Dame Sarah.

The potential for more walking and less driving to work in South Yorkshire is huge, according to figures collected by Sheffield Hallam University’s Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre: over 50% of work trips under one mile are made by car, said Professor Steve Haake, who was even more stunned by the fact that 29% of trips shorter than 600 yards are also made in a car.

This Friday is international Walk to Work Day, and 24 year old Connor Copeland is planning a 19 mile commute from his flat in central Sheffield to his office at Reach Interactive in Doncaster.

“We were thinking of running a marathon or half marathon in aid of Bluebell Wood Hospice, but I wanted to see if it was possible to do a fund raising walk into work over a similar distance instead,” said Connor.

Colleague Andy Cook will try to beat Connor into work by walking 19 miles from his parent’s home in Retford at the same time on Friday morning, and hopefully being tracked by supporters online to raise funds for Bluebell Wood – it’ll take the pair about 6 hours, Connor estimates.

“We want to raise awareness of the environmental and health benefits of walking more often, and inspire other people to try it too,” said Connor. “It can be difficult to stay active when you work in an office, and one way of getting your physical activity in is walking some or all of your journey to work.”

Darshana Dholakia says she now really enjoys her 20 mile walking week. She says she can listen to music more, and vary her route to discover more of her home city.

“It takes me about 40 minutes, not much more than it did by bus, but now I don’t need to go to the gym as often so I’m actually saving time.”

Mayor Dan Jarvis walks to work when he’s in London, and said he’d encourage as many people as possible to improve their health and reduce congestion by giving commuting on foot a go.

“Everyone knows there are too many cars on the road and where they can I’d encourage people to get out of their cars and improve their health and wellbeing by walking or cycling.”

He added he hoped the appointment of Olympian Dame Sarah Storey as Active Travel Commissioner will help “focus people’s mind on making sometimes really small changes to the way they live their lives.”