A capering hermit wearing a raccoon on his head and a cheeky, old-fashioned milkman from the 1970s may not sound like natural Olympians. But together they helped 100 south London people of all ages and abilities overcome personal challenges at a cultural Olympiad designed to boost wellbeing and community interaction.

The Olympiad challenge event at Marble Hill and Ham House at Richmond was part of a unique community project – called heritage2health (h2h) – that aims to open up the arts, culture and heritage locations to people with disabilities or who are socially isolated. Heritage2health is based at the Faculty of Health and Social Care Sciences, a joint collaboration between Kingston University and St George’s, University of London.

Participants from local health and social care organisations took part in a range of arts, craft, history and physical activities at the heritage sites. The day involved people with long-term health conditions such as brain injury, people with learning disabilities, older people, carers, and others at risk of social exclusion. Among the groups taking part were Merton Social Services, the Wolfson Neurorehabilitation Centre, Fern Croft Residential Home, Amy Woodgate Specialist Resource Centre, Kingston MIND, Age Concern and The Children’s Trust.

Teams undertook a range of challenges including yoga, creating rice paper messages of love to float along the Thames, and making pomanders and fans. Groups explored the history of both sites through music and dance, led by a traditional milkman with a 1975 milk float and a singing and dancing hermit. The main challenges were crossing the river by foot and ferry, and competing in an Olympic Games using vegetables, including the carrot javelin.

Dr Val Collington, acting dean for the Faculty, completed the day on 23 June by awarding ‘gold medals’ to outstanding youth volunteers.

Theresa Nash, director of h2h, said: “The latest event was a great experience for all involved. Seeing so many people from diverse backgrounds and of all abilities truly come together to support one another is a humbling experience. We had some great feedback from participants, many saying they were delighted that the event crossed all barriers and showed there are no differences between people.”

“Our events are not one-offs though. We link participants on a journey to further community, volunteering or educational initiatives to aid further integration in the community. We also provide an opportunity for volunteers including health and social care staff and students to make a real difference to people’s lives, which is also a transformational learning experience for them.”

The next h2h event is on September 22 at Leith Hill in Surrey, where a time capsule will be buried. Theresa encouraged health and social care agencies to become involved, as well as funding bodies to help support future developments. H2h is already supported by the National Trust and English Heritage.

Heritage2health runs a programme of events open to volunteers and local health and social care providers. To find out more visit www.heritage2health.co.uk or find the group on Facebook at www.facebook.com/heritage2health.