Britain’s most successful female Paralympian Dame Sarah Storey is Sheffield City Region (SCR) Mayor Dan Jarvis’s Active Travel Commissioner. Jill Theobald attended her appointment event to find out why’s SCR’s active travel agenda is ‘NOT a PR exercise’ – but instead all about sustainable travel and REAL exercise

“Mayor Dan Jarvis tasked us with gathering evidence about active travel so Sheffield City Region could hit the ground running.

“Or walking. Or cycling. Or taking the bus!”

Steve Haak, Professor of Sports Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University

When it comes to introducing an article about Dame Sarah Storey becoming Sheffield City Region (SCR)’s Active Travel Commissioner, it is fitting to kick off with Prof Steve Haake’s above comment.

For the Professor of Sports Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) introduced both the SCR Mayor Dan Jarvis and Dame Sarah Storey herself at her appointment event, following that very quip about SHU and the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre’s involvement.

But he quickly followed up the light-hearted comment with some pretty serious stats.

“I was both astonished and intrigued by information the region gave us about inactivity in this region including that 25-30 per cent are physically active for less than 30 mins per week,” said Prof Haake.

“That’s four and a half minutes a day!

“Given the expansion of road and car usage over the next five to ten years, that is not a sustainable lifestyle.”

And Mayor Jarvis was just as keen to stress the importance at the event, too, telling guests: “Active transport is absolutely central to my Mayoral agenda. I am personally committed to this. This is not simply going through the motions, it is not a PR exercise – we want to deliver transformative change.”

Across the Pennines, Olympic cycling champion Chris Boardman joined Greater Manchester’s mayor Andy Burnham earlier this year in asking the government to invest in a national cycling and walking network and is on a mission to improving transport options for all.

Major Jarvis returned inspired from a trip to the city, saying he was “incredibly impressed by what Chris and Andy were doing in Manchester and I want us to do something similarly ambitious here in the SCR.

“To do that, we have recruited an outstanding person as our Active Travel Commissioner.”

Introducing Dame Storey as “a hugely respected and influential figure”, “an exceptional, inspirational and passionate individual” and “a fantastic signing”, Mayor Jarvis said: “Sarah joins us at an exciting time and will play a crucial role in helping us to make sure that active travel remains an absolute priority as we make our region’s transport network fit for the 21st century.”

Dame Storey was a swimmer at four Paralympic Games before switching to cycling in 2005, and during her career trained and competed at Ponds Forge. Since switching to cycling, she’s added to her five swimming gold medals with a further nine cycling golds at the Paralympics of 2008, 2012 and 2016.

She has also competed against able-bodied athletes riding for England at the Commonwealth Games and won medals at UCI Track Cycling World Cup meetings with the able-bodied squad.

Her Active Travel Commissioner role will involve championing active travel and working alongside Mayor Jarvis to create a region in which more people travel on foot, by bike or by public transport. She will also work with organisations including local authorities, the Passenger Transport Executive, community groups and public health professionals, as well as with the Government.

Dame Storey said: “I’m proud and excited to be the first Active Travel Commissioner for the Sheffield City Region. I believe active travel is a less stressful way of moving about and helps to create the foundation of a happier workforce and a happier population.

“For me, this is utilising that profile of elite sport to benefit the wider population and communities – we can all be more active if we have the right facilities and an environment that encourages that.

“Not everyone is going to be an elite athlete, but we can all enjoy being more active. I’m looking forward to seeing how, together, we can make real changes to the way people travel in the Sheffield City Region.”

SCR Mayor Dan Jarvis with Dame Sarah Storey

One person who is already anticipating those changes is Russell Cutts from Russell’s Bicycle Shed which has sites at Sheffield and Nottingham rail stations as well as Kelham Island – and is exploring securing funding to build a cycle hub at Meadhowhall.

Russell, who brought along various fold-up and e-bikes to Dame Storey’s appointment event, told unLTD: “I understand why people who live in particularly hilly areas like Crookes or Walkley may not want to ride a bike. All I can say is I’ve ridden a single gear bike around Sheffield and even I appreciate an e-bike like the Rayleigh Motus!

“Our target group is two-car families with a bit of a disposable income – they could get rid of the second car and comfortably buy a Motus at £1,700 and have change left.

“The more they are seen in Sheffield, the more people will want to ride them.”