Meet The Adventure Play Guru Behind Mini Maze

Here we meet Stephen Vass, the lead designer at CAP.Co, the adventure play specialists. CAP.Co has been the architects of three integral parts of our Fort Douglas playground – Sky Maze, the Orangerie Zip Wires and now Mini Maze. Mini Maze in Fort Douglas, which opened in spring 2020 is designed to give little adventurers (under-fives) their first exciting steps into explorative play, with their adults beside them.


Stephen talks to us about promoting the beginnings of independent play, safely, and how designing playgrounds is the perfect job for someone who has never grown up.

Mini Maze in Fort Douglas is proving a welcome addition to the playground.

Tell us a little about the Mini Maze brief and how you answered it in your design?

This is our third time working with Dalkeith Country Park. There is now a mutual trust that has developed over the last few years between us to deliver something fantastic. The brief was relatively simple – engage the park’s younger demographic in a safe yet challenging toddler area. It also needed to be in-keeping with the architectural style of the other play elements in Fort Douglas to ensure the coherent look and feel unique to the adventure park continues.

Mini Maze nestles beside Sky Maze like a littler sibling. Was that very much intentional?

The intention when designing all of our adventure play areas, is to make them feel ‘of-their-place’. By that, we mean that they should sit well within their natural environment. On this occasion, it also meant using similar materials to Sky Maze to ensure a visual connection between both areas. The graduation in scale from toddler play to adventure play is also significant in creating a proportional and aspirational link between them. As you say, they are like siblings playing alongside each other. This will literally mirror the relationship between some families on site, giving younger ones plenty to aspire to on future visits!

Sky Maze has been such a huge hit because it allows inter-generational play as well as independent adventures for slightly older kids. Is it difficult to create adventure play for little ones who still need to be with their parents?

The important thing is for us, as designers, to understand how different age groups of children play and interact. We then include the appropriate activities that allow little ones to thrive. For example, the Mini-Maze incorporates seating around the main sand-pit, which allows parents to be visually and physically close – yet one step removed. This helps promote and nurture a child’s growing independence.

How do you manage to achieve the balance between exciting their growing confidence and keeping them safe?

This is the main challenge for us. How do we introduce risk but eliminate hazard? How to develop a child’s confidence and ability to independently navigate their way through their environment and decide what is a step too far for them without the need for constant contact with their parents? We believe we play a small but valued part in this – making them meet, and overcome, challenges within Mini Maze and beyond.

How did you get into designing adventure play? Did you grow up thinking that’s what I want to be when I grow up?

I never actually grew up, which helps!

Best bit about your job is..?

It is absolutely fantastic to see families playing outside in the fresh air together, engaging with nature and simply spending quality, fun times together. For me, there is nothing more rewarding than knowing that we have already helped around 8-million children and families create memories that stand the test of time, across the UK and beyond.

When we opened Fort Douglas post-lockdown in 2020, everyone was so excited to play outside again. Do you feel playing outside has never felt better?

The importance of outdoor play cannot be underestimated. This has become quite evident for all families in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic and the lockdown has shown us is that we’ve taken the ability to engage with the outdoors for granted, and adventure play such as Fort Douglas – which is inclusive to all – provides breathing space for both children and parents alike to improve their collective physical and mental health through play.

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