A COFFEE machine given by the King – or more precisely his charity The Prince’s Trust – has helped a community shop in West Devon survive and thrive.

The shop set up by husband and wife team Steve Lofthouse and Shirley Brookman in Northlew turns three this week, and the couple, who are themselves volunteers, have pledged to continue.

When they moved down from Oxfordshire to deepest Devon and village of Northlew five years ago, they took the plunge and take over The Square Shop in tiny premises on the village square, little realising that Covid was about to hit. That crisis could have finished their venture – a Community Interest Company – off for good. Instead, though, the village shop has kept going, supplying as much local produce as possible alongside grocery staples. And the coffee machine from The Prince’s Trust has proved crucial to its recovery since Covid, allowing the couple to offer real coffee on Saturday and Sunday mornings at tables and chairs outside the shop.

Steve said: ‘If we are successful at the moment, it is because of the coffee, because at the end of the week, for people who don’t want to go to the pub, it is somewhere to go. We have 20 odd people on a Saturday morning. We are open on Sunday morning too.

‘We have been here for five years. The shop was struggling when we got here and we had come down with the intention of working but couldn’t find any work. We had always wanted a shop ourselves so we decided to take it on.’We have as much local produce as possible. We use Taw River Dairy and we have produce from Hallwood Farm in Petrockstowe, Black Dog eggs from Crediton and bread from the Teign Valley Bakery, so as far as we can it is local.’While not everyone uses the shop, those that do use it regularly, he said. ‘Northlew is an isolated village and the nearest supermarket is in Okehampton six miles away,’

Steve and Shirley are themselves volunteers and have help from volunteers. As they mark their third anniversary, they had a kitchen table conference on whether to carry on and decided they would. ‘We meet people because of it,’ he said. ‘It has become a social thing for us.’