If you're on Hunter Street and you spot what appears to be a new restaurant, with ambient music and a friendly vibe that's buzzing with activity, it's not the city's latest hot spot, it's the Soul Hub's new "forever home".
The charity, which supports the community's most vulnerable, served its first meals at 437 Hunter Street. The space provided by the Ian & Shirley Norman Foundation, while a custom $1.8-million fit out was thanks to the generous donations of Novocastrians.
Along with a commercial-grade kitchen, the new location has spaces for haircuts, doctor appointments and support group meetings.
"We're so thankful, the community support has added up to something amazing ... Newcastle helped us get this done, without Newcastle we couldn't do this," manager Matt Ortiger said.
"People will notice it feels like a warm home or a restaurant, it doesn't feel like a soup kitchen. As people walk in, they're greeted to a large friendly space with ambient music and they immediately feel relaxed.
On average, Soul Hub serves a thousand meals a week. But Mr Ortiger said the larger, built-for-purpose space would allow them to expand their service and open for longer hours.
"This time next year we might be serving 40 to 50 per cent more meals than we are now," he said.
It's just as well, because October was Soul Hub's busiest month ever, as the cost of living crisis affects an increasingly wider section of the community.
"Compared to this time last year, our numbers are up 38 per cent across the board," Mr Ortiger said.
"We've got people forced to choose between buying food, paying the rent or getting their medication prescription filled.
"Those tough choices bring a lot of people to us. We can give them a free meal and that's money they can spend on other things they need."
But the Soul Hub is so much more than just a free meal. It has a laundry, spaces for medical appointments and meeting rooms for groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.
"Guests come for the meal and realise there are a bunch of other services like help with groceries, haircuts, doctors, chiropractors," Mr Ortiger said.
"It's a really friendly space with no expense spared. That's what our guests deserve, to be treated with dignity and respect."
Most importantly, the Soul Hub provides a sense of belonging.
"Typically, we find community and a sense of belonging is what leads to lasting life transformation," Mr
"People come for practical support, but once they finally feel like they belong, they're more likely to let us help them with housing, doctor appointments and Centrelink services."
Soul Hub is currently collecting Hampers for Hope, which helps people through the holiday period as services for the vulnerable shut down for the Christmas and New Year break. To donate visit soulhub.org.au.