Soul Cafe sees long-term benefits of Watt Street upgrades and Newcastle 500 work

Supportive: Soul Cafe administration manager Maria Thomas says the charity sees the big picture beyond ongoing disruptions in Newcastle CBD. Picture: Simone De Peak
Supportive: Soul Cafe administration manager Maria Thomas says the charity sees the big picture beyond ongoing disruptions in Newcastle CBD. Picture: Simone De Peak

A charity that serves about 700 free meals to people in need each week has its eyes on the big picture when it comes to upheaval in Newcastle CBD.

A section of Watt Street was closed to traffic on Thursday and won’t reopen for about six weeks to allow infrastructure upgrades ahead of the Newcastle 500 Supercars race.

The closure came just two days before a major power outage is expected to affect 80 homes and businesses in Watt Street and Hunter Street between 8.30am and 4.30pm on Saturday.

Soul Cafe administration manager Maria Thomas said the charity was looking at the “long-term gain” of the disruptions.

She said the power outage would not affect Soul Cafe, which only ran a breakfast service on Saturdays, and the road closure would likely have little impact because most clients and volunteers used public transport.

“It’s an obvious disruption in terms of the roads being blocked off,” Ms Thomas said.

“But in terms of the cafe, our main concern is that we’re looking after our guests who are vulnerable people with drug and alcohol and mental health [issues].

“Information helps us do that, so we’ve worked with council on that and we are happy to do that.”

Soul Cafe has been running in Newcastle since 2003.

The organisation, located on the corner of Watt Street and Hunter Street, has about 110 to 120 volunteers at any given time.

Ms Thomas said the charity had been “very well supported” by the Newcastle community over the years, so it was prepared to support any initiative that ultimately helped the city.

“That street [Watt Street] is going to be great after all of this,” she said.

“We see things like the Supercars or works being done in the city as a good thing – we’ve got the bigger picture.

“We like to see things happening in the city, provided it’s done in a careful way.”

Traffic diversions will be in place while Watt Street is closed, between Scott Street and Church Street.

A flyer distributed by race organisers noted the closure would allow temporary security fences to be erected, utilities to be relocated, pavement to be stripped, earthworks, kerb demolition, and electrical and pipe work.

“This diversion will allow major works to be completed earlier and increase the safety of local residents/businesses, pedestrians and local road users,” the flyer noted.