IT is the vital lifeline that helps support children in Kenya.

But now a Hampshire charity coffee shop has found itself driven to the brink by a supermarket chain that is giving away free cuppas to customers.

The owners of Asante, in Winchester Road, Chandler’s Ford, believe that if Waitrose keeps handing out free coffee to its customers they could be forced close.

Asante funds a school for 300 children in the Kenyan slum of Kisumu and also pays for accommodation for 25 orphans.

It used to be a thriving business which saw dozens of customers come in every morning. Its success even saw it expand and open another shop in Romsey.

But since Waitrose started offering free tea and coffee to storecard members last December, Asante says its trade has been cut by more than a third.

The owners, who have made several pleas to the firm to stop giving away drinks, say they could be forced to close, ending hopes they had of the Kenyan school becoming self-sufficient. Owner Shirley Barter said: “If this carries on we are going to have no choice but to cut what we do drastically and only have one shop.

“I do not want to say to the children that we can’t afford to help them |any more.”

She added: “I would feel so upset about that because here we help other people too, our volunteer staff and our community of customers who are regulars, it would mean not just devastation for those children in Africa but the Chandler’s Ford community.

“We understand that the retail world is competitive, but no independent charity-run coffee shop |can possibly compete with free |coffee from a large and successful chain.”

A spokesman for Waitrose pointed out that many businesses offers customers’ loyalty schemes. She said: “There is nothing new in what Waitrose is doing – we are simply offering our myWaitrose card holders a free hot drink each day and a refund on a newspaper if they spend a set amount.

“Our Chandler’s Ford supermarket gives £1,000 a month to good causes through our Community Matters ‘green token’ scheme, and the local community also benefits from the paid hours we give our partners who wish to volunteer.

“Our branch manager has been in touch with Asante a number of times to see what support we can offer.”